Anahi Ortiz Speaks for the Dead

Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz at the T.J. Evans Trail in Johnstown Photo by Tim Johnson

When the work gets to her, Dr. Anahi Ortiz starts walking. She drives to a park or a nature trail and begins to move, one foot in front of the other, at least 10,000 steps. It has to feel like a lot, comparable to all that she deals with in her line of work. 

Since taking on the job of Franklin County coroner in 2014, Ortiz has witnessed an unprecedented rise in overdose deaths. In 2019, nearly 71,000 people in the United States died from unintentional drug overdoses, and 2020 will likely be worse when the final numbers are calculated. In Franklin County, the situation is particularly grim. During the first half of last year, 437 people died of accidental overdoses—a 73 percent increase from the same period in 2019. By August, the death toll was more than 500, nearly matching the entire total from 2019, Ortiz says.