As overdose deaths increase, NH medical examiner takes new path toward prevention

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CONCORD, N.H. – The Chief Medical Examiner in New Hampshire is stepping down amidst the state’s highest rate of overdose deaths ever.

But, he says, quitting his job could actually help save lives.

Boston 25 News reporter Kathryn Burcham talked to Dr. Tom Andrew about why he’s trading in his license after two decades on the job.

“I started Labor Day weekend, 1997,” he said. “I did sign my last autopsy report last week.”

The ending is bittersweet. Dr. Andrew says he loves forensic pathology and giving families the answers they need about their loved ones, but the job today is not the one he signed up for so long ago.

“You would occasionally get a drug death, days would go by without a drug death,” he said.

As the opioid crisis grew in the Granite state, Dr. Andrew says his office became overwhelmed and simply couldn’t keep up.

“When the heroin-fentanyl problem hit, you realized, oh my goodness, we are under water here,” he said.

>>RELATED: Opioid Epidemic: First responders discuss unprecedented overdose levels

Dr. Andrew says the state office was even at risk of losing accreditation - for performing too many autopsies.

The work was taxing both physically and emotionally.

“It raises the question as to how are all of these cases going to get done?” he said.

While the answer for him was leaving the M.E.’s Office, it isn't about giving up on the opioid crisis.

He’s simply found a new calling.

“Being on the front side, or the prevention side, not just of substance abuse but high-risk behaviors of all types in youth, as opposed to the accounting side, after death,” he said.

>>RELATED: 'It's basically poison': New bill aims to make carfentanil illegal in Mass.

In January, Dr. Andrew will head to seminary to get a master’s degree in divinity, and plans to become a Chaplin with the Boy Scouts.

A path he believes will lead to saving lives instead of dissecting them.

“You’re talking about potentially having an impact on thousands of youth, and now girls as well,” he said.

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