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‘Community in Crisis’: Town hall addresses rising overdose deaths among black population

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Posted at 10:41 PM, Jun 01, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a new push to save lives in Indianapolis and reduce overdose deaths after research shows some Black communities are being hit the hardest by the opioid crisis in Marion County.

Overdose Lifeline, S.O.U.L, MACRO-B and Indiana University School of Public Health hosted a town hall “Community in Crisis” conversation on Saturday. They hoped to address community conditions, practices and perspectives contributing to inequitable opioid overdose response and education in Black Indianapolis communities.

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“People are not willing to call 911 for fear of harassment from law enforcement and the stigma of substance use disorder,” explained Charlotte Crabtree, the diversity outreach program manager for Overdose Lifeline. ”We don't know where to go to get something."

Access, mistrust, fear and education are among many factors IU Professor Dong-Chul Seo believe contribute to Black people accounting for 70-75% of overdoses in four Indianapolis zip codes: 46202, 46205, 46208 and 46218.

“In those four zip code areas, we saw 198 deaths out of 100,000. That’s really high given the national average is only 32,” said Professor Seo.

These alarming numbers are what Marion County Deputy Chief Coroner Alfarena “Alfie” McGinty sees first-hand.

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She said although they’ve recorded an 18% decrease in total overdose deaths county-wide, Black communities are still being impacted at higher rates.

“In the month of April, we saw more African Americans die due to drug overdoses than Caucasians and that is rare,” said McGinty.

She lost a loved one herself and believes the push to reduce the numbers involves mental health support, addressing grief and helping those dealing with substance use disorders by shedding light on resources.

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Those at Saturday’s town hall also believe education and de-stigmatizing life-saving measures like the overdose reversal medicine Naloxone are crucial to getting the numbers down.

“We want to come up with a model that we can share with communities throughout the United States to use in their outreach efforts to lower black overdose deaths,” said Crabtree.

Saturday’s town hall at Martin University focused on gathering community feedback.

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Another one will be held August 17 to talk about solutions and ways to begin implementing them in Black communities.

For more information on the IU School of Public Health's research, click here.