SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The top two examined causes of deaths by the Minnehaha County Coroner in 2022 were drugs and gunshot wounds.  

There were 26 deaths caused by drugs examined by Minnehaha County Coroner Dr. Kenneth Snell and 21 deaths caused by gunshot wounds in 2022. Snell presented 2022 data to the Minnehaha County Commission on Tuesday. 

“Drug deaths are way above normal, but they’re less than they were last year,” Snell said. There were 36 examined drug deaths in 2021. “We did start seeing methamphetamine and fentanyl combined and we had not been seeing that before this year.” 

The coroner’s office examined 14 traffic-related deaths (driver, passenger or pedestrian), 11 alcohol and heart disease deaths and nine hypertension deaths. 

“For the most part, we’re all the same top five,” Snell said about the 2021 examined deaths compared to 2022. 

Snell said the coroner’s office never knows what it’ll see in a year. There was a drop in the total number of cases (734) reported to the Minnehaha County Coroner, but the 101 autopsies completed by the coroner’s office was the same in 2021. 

For infant deaths, Snell said there were six examinations with four dying from positional asphyxia (nose and mouth covered), one undetermined and one infant homicide for a traumatic head injury. 

For natural deaths, Snell said heart disease was the No. 1 examined natural death, followed by hypertension, respiratory (usually emphysema or COVID) and other cardiovascular deaths that are not heart attack or high blood pressure. 

There were 25 examined suicide deaths in 2022, down from 27 in 2021 and the top suicide month was March. 

“The concept of holidays being the most common, we don’t see that here,” Snell said. 

Snell said he expects toxicology costs to continue to increase, but said alcohol-related tests have a faster turn-around time when processed through a state office. He said Minnehaha County Coroner’s office saw busy months in December and January 

“The last two months have been higher than any month all of last year,” Snell said. “We do worry about as this county grows, as the city grows, that we will see an increased number of cases coming out of this area.” 

Snell said he’s always weighing the balance between the need for the community looking and telling what exactly happened to a person versus what it costs for his office to operate. 

Commissioner Jean Bender called Snell “one of the unsung heroes of Minnehaha County” and noted his work doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. 

Commissioner Dean Karsky thanked Snell for testifying against a bill that would’ve impacted how deaths were reported in Minnehaha County because Snell doesn’t see all of the deaths that happen in the county.