Heroin takes post-mortem toll on Northern Kentucky tax payers

COVINGTON, Ky. -- The heroin epidemic in Northern Kentucky is taking a post-mortem toll on tax payers.

In Kenton County, civic leaders say they're doubling the amount of money in the budget allocated for indigent burials due in part to the exponential spike in overdose deaths in the region.

"In 2013, we had 38 pauper burials -- 25 of those were related to drugs. We know they're choosing between drugs and a normal lifestyle. Drugs are winning,” said Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus. He said the majority of overdose victims were heroin users.

“It's posing a big problem," he added.

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The mixture of increased drug use and a struggling economy is forcing local government officials to pay for burials at places like Highlands Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, one of the handful of sites where indigent or pauper burials take place.

"In many cases they have stolen from their families to support their habits and family and friends and they have worn out their welcome of everywhere they go, so when they've lost that touch with everyone else, no one wants to take the responsibility for burying those individuals," Arlinghaus said.

The county is looking for additional ways to help pay for the uptick in pauper burials and just recently approved with it believes will be a money-saving policy.

The new policy allows the county to cremate those who can't pay for their burial, as long as a loved one signs off on it. Then, the ashes are placed in an urn and buried along with several other urns at Linden Grove Cemetery in Covington.

"Because of the space and the cost of burials in general, it's the only way you can deal with it,” Arlinghaus said. “It's not the preferred method necessarily but (you have to) when you have so many pauper burials a year."

Don Catchen and Sons Funeral Home has a contract with the county to handle the burials. One indigent burial costs $831.

While he's glad he can help the county, Catchen says he wishes people prepared better for end-of-life scenarios. He says even a small term life insurance policy can make the difference when it comes to receiving a "proper burial."

“One less pack of cigarettes, two or three less beers will pay for a term life insurance policy. And heaven knows how much you can save if you aren’t pumping heroin into your veins.”

While Arlinghaus agrees, he's focused on fixing the bigger issue: finding ways to cut down on the drug problem in his community.

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