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County asked to participate in statewide death reporting

Cape Girardeau County has been asked by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to take part in two state surveillance programs to track the circumstances of violent and opioid-involved deaths.

Both programs are funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the goal of providing states and communities with a clear understanding of what leads to these deaths, and how best to implement prevention strategies.

Erin Miller, the project coordinator for the violent death reporting program, and Evan Mobley, the program manager for the opioid mortality surveillance program, spoke to the Cape Girardeau County Commission on April 26 about how the county could be involved.

DHSS already receives death certificates from the county but would want to receive full coroner reports for this program. Miller and Mobley stated they couldn’t get a full picture of the deaths with only the certificate.

“Many programs provide counts, but counts do not tell us why a person is at risk for a violent death — why are they more likely than someone else,” Miller said. “That’s what we are trying to get to.”

“We’ve collected death certificates in the state for over 100 years, but the death certificates only have limited data and don’t provide a complete picture,” Mobley said.

Miller said they would look for geographical information, victim demographics and common risk factors such as gang participation, life crises including losing a job and mental health issues.

The CDC defines violent deaths as homicides, suicides, deaths of undetermined intent, accidental deaths that involved a firearm, law enforcement related deaths and deaths related to terrorism. Missouri has the seventh highest rate of violent death, with over 60 percent being suicides.

The opioid surveillance program is gathering information on both fatal and nonfatal opioid overdoses. The program gets information from non-fatal overdoses from participating hospitals but needs coroner reports for fatal overdose information. Mobley said many people overdose using many different drugs, and gaining access to toxicology reports allows the program to know if opioids were involved.

Neither program asks the coroner’s office to run any tests that they didn’t already do and can pay up to $30 per report to the county. Miller said the money is to help fund the coroner’s office, but each county can choose to use those funds elsewhere. She also said that some counties send the data without an official contract, but those counties are not given any monetary compensation.

Miller said the programs will identify each case they want to look at further from the death certificates they already receive, and will then contact the county Coron-er’s Office to have that information transferred to them.
Once the reports are submitted, the data will go through an anonymous web-based system run by CDC. In that system, all identifying information is taken out.

After the data is collected and organized, reports on the information will be shared with local public health organizations, law enforcement agencies and other programs at DHSS.

Commissioner Paul Koep-er wanted to have proof that the programs comply with state statutes, and Miller said she would provide that information. She also left sample contracts for the Commissioners to review.

Last year, 17 counties and the City of Saint Louis participated in the programs. Mobley said most of those were in urban areas, and a major goal of theirs is to expand to more rural areas.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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