Drug Overdose

Fentanyl-related overdoses in Marion County have risen dramatically in recent years, with Black residents being particularly at risk, according to the results of a new study.

The study was conducted by the Center for Health and Justice Research at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

Dr. Brad Ray, School of Public & Environmental Affairs associate professor, led the study, which was published last month in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Ray examined fentanyl-related overdose trends in Marion County from 2010 through April 2017.

“During that time, rates of overdoses involving fentanyl rose significantly,” stated Leslie Wells, assistant director of communications at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. “Those rates had remained lower than 15 percent from 2010 through 2013. However, they skyrocketed in recent years. By 2017, nearly half of all overdose deaths involved fentanyl. As time passed, there was also a shift from fentanyl simply being one opioid in the victim’s system to being the only opioid.”

In 2011, Black residents in the county had a 3 percent risk of fentanyl-related overdose death, and whites had a 9 percent risk.

In 2017, that changed to 61 percent, and 46 percent, respectively.

Black women, in particular, face an increasingly high risk of death from fentanyl-related overdoses.

In 2017, Black females had a 62 percent risk rate of fentanyl-related overdose deaths—the highest of all study groups—compared to a 40 percent rate of risk for white women.

“Strained relationships between the [Black] community and law enforcement, as well as the mass incarceration of people of color for drug-related charges, may play a critical role in the disparities,” stated Wells.

“For example, preliminary research findings from CHJR suggest that among [Blacks] who are revived by naloxone only half of the time is the corresponding 911 call for an overdose, while among [whites] more than 80 percent of the time the call is for an overdose. That means that when [Blacks] are experiencing an overdose they are less likely to call and report the event as overdose; instead, they often refer to the person as unresponsive.”

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The complete CDC study was published Wednesday and can be found here.


Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.


News Editor