Valley funeral homes see tragic consequence of heroin firsthand

A funeral director in Austintown says there has been a 1,500 percent increase in drug deaths since he started 30 years ago

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AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – While we typically hear about police and EMS crews on the front lines of the heroin crisis, another group seeing the effects of this deadly drug is Valley funeral homes.

Gary Silvat, a funeral director, opened his business in Austintown about 16 months ago and he already knows the consequence of the epidemic very well.

“I’ve serviced approximately 100 families and about 15 percent of those have been somehow related to addiction issues or heroin,” he said.

That’s a big jump in recent years. Just a few weeks ago, Silvat helped bury someone who died from a heroin overdose.

“I’ve been a funeral director 30 years and when I started, if we had one death per year related to a drug overdose, we thought that was a lot. Today I’m seeing that 1,500 percent increase.”

Families who have to bury a loved one who died because of drug addiction or overdose often choose to cremate the body immediately, Slivat says.

“They find it to be the most cost-effective. It might not be what they want, but it is within their means.”

The heroin crisis is in every community and for many funeral directors, it’s hitting close to home.

“A lot of our funeral service professionals have close relationships in their communities and with individuals, so they maybe have known these children, young adults growing up in their communities,” said Melissa Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Funeral Directors Association.

He says that the only way to fight it is by working together.

“Not just funeral directors, not just the police department, not just the medical community. Unless we’re able to put some type of comprehensive program or understanding together, then as we move forward, the situation doesn’t get better, it only gets worse.”

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