November 2, 2022

New grant to fund opioid study of racial disparities in Indianapolis

While 14% of those who died of opioids were treated for substance misuse, only 8% of Black Americans are treated, the lowest of all groups. - Overdose Lifeline

While 14% of those who died of opioids were treated for substance misuse, only 8% of Black Americans are treated, the lowest of all groups.

Overdose Lifeline
Kayan Tara

The IU School of Public Health in Bloomington has received a $1.7 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the role of structural racism in stigmatization and deaths from opioid use in the Indianapolis African American community.

“The overdose crisis is serious and we are increasingly seeing evidence of racial disparities where black people are more disproportionately affected by overdose death,” said Dong-Chul Seo, head of the study and professor of public health.

Black Americans are about twice as likely to die from opioid-related overdoses as are white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While 14% of those who died of opioids were treated for substance misuse, only 8% of Black Americans are treated, the lowest of all groups.

One community partner on this study is the Overdose Lifeline, a nonprofit that educates about preventive measures against substance misuse. The organization noticed racial disparities when distributing naloxone in local Indiana communities.

“We had distributed like 35,000 doses of naloxone and only one person identified as a black or African American, which was a problem for me,” said Charlotte Crabtree, program and office assistant.

Recovery is possible, but people need to be reached before they overdose, Crabtree noted.

“We distribute naloxone and we distribute it free wherever you are at, you can put it in a request, we'll put it in the mail. If you are nervous and you don't want your name on it, we'll send it to ‘current resident,’” Crabtree continued. “But, for whatever reason, we're not stepping up to the plate and reaching [the Black community] that needs to be reached.”

Justin Phillips is acutely aware that it takes seconds for someone to overdose if live saving methods are not implemented. She lost her son Aaron to an overdose in 2013. This prompted her to start Overdose Lifeline.

“When you think about substance use disorder as such a judged and stigmatized chronic disease, we don't talk about. It's not normalized at all. So you combine that on top of denial,  and fear about being judged and shamed and and maybe even legal consequences…All of those things just create a barrier for people to be willing to ask for help, and if I don't think I need it, I don't pay attention to the information,” Phillips said.

Building the infrastructure to understand how opioid use affects individual communities is imperative to solving the issue, noted Jon Agley, the deputy director of research at IU’s Prevention Insights.

“While many communities may have specific kinds of harms associated with opioid overdose, the things that lead to those harms and the things that could protect against those harms are different,” Agley continued. “And so, if we try to just get generic ideas and bring them into a single community, some of that may work and some may not.”

Naloxone is available without a prescription in all states. Individuals can google Find a Nalox Box or naloxbox.org for more information.

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