BOISE -- Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens is on the front line of Idaho's opioid crisis.
"Our cooler is constantly full," Owens said. "When we come in from a weekend we generally are out of room for bodies. We don't want to keep picking up the overdoses."
Owens says so far this year there have been 25 opioid overdose deaths in Ada County alone. That's roughly one overdose every five days. Owens says the numbers are down from this time last year, but it's still excessive.
"It's so common that nothing's surprising anymore," Owens said. "When we go on scene and we see someone with a needle in their arm or oxy melted in a spoon, or whatever the situation is, that shock factor is completely gone."
Owens and her team began extensively researching every overdose death that came through the Ada County morgue since the end of 2015, when they first noticed the increase in overdose rates. They found a common pattern. Owens says most opioid overdose deaths were white men in their 40s. The majority were professionals with families and had been prescribed opioids after a surgery. They were unaware of the potential of dependence and addiction.
"We put hundreds of hours on these cases because it's a death," Owens said. "And it's something that's going to affect our community."
Owens doesn't want Idaho to be the next Ohio, where skyrocketing overdose deaths from opioids have devastated families and depleted state resources.
Dr. John Malan, an oral surgeon at Owyhee Oral and Facial Surgery in Nampa, is also on the front line of Idaho's opioid crisis.
"There is an over-prescribing of medication," Malan said. "There are so many narcotics prescribed in Idaho. I just saw a statistic. There are 56 tablets per person of an opioid right now, per person, in Idaho. We (physicans and surgeons) are part of the problem. We really are. And we want to be part of the solution," Malan said.
Malan is doing his part, by using a new medication called Exparel. He describes it as a long-lasting anesthetic injected around the surgical site that blocks the pain for two to three days. As the numbness slowly wears off, patients begin to take anti-inflammatory medications to stay ahead of the pain.
"If you can stay ahead of the pain and not have to break that pain cycle, or add in stronger drugs to do that, the better off you are," Malan said.
We interviewed five of Malan's patients who all said for the most part over-the-couner Tylenol and Ibuprofen eased their pain.
"The less chance to get addictive is, in my opinion, definitely better," Ty Collins said.
"I actually never filled the prescription," Krystal Woodard said.
"I only took one that night just to be more precautionary, on the safe side," Erica Collins said.
"Some people don't have problems with it and some people do," Alyssa Bicandi said. "And if there's an alternative, something you can do to even avoid going there, then why not."
The results are promising, according to Malan.
"I've been able to prescribe half the amount of narcotics that I used to prescribe," Malan said. "Now we are more aware. You know the opioid crisis is huge. We are all very aware of it."
Both Owens and Malan say they are not on a witch hunt to pull opioids off the market. They realize that everyone's pain response is going to be different, and they acknowledge there is a legitimate need for opioids, especially with chronic pain patients. However, education is key.
"I think we're getting in front of it." Owens said. "I think our numbers are starting to slow down. We just need to be able to teach people how to be responsible with them. I think that's the key. Know when you need them, know when you don't."