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$5.1M grant to help prevent Hoosier overdose deaths

For Immediate Release Oct 12, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana University researchers are working to reduce the number of opioid deaths in Indiana by providing timely data to improve resources and services that help people who use drugs stay as healthy as possible.

Using a five-year, $5.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Data2Action Initiative, the researchers will work with overdose fatality review teams in 19 Hoosier counties to measure and improve the effectiveness of harm reduction practices. The goal is to save more lives by providing more timely reporting of data, including which local systems individuals interact with on a broader scale.

“We are in an overdose crisis, with hundreds of overdose events regularly occurring in Indiana, and many Hoosiers are dying,” said Matthew Aalsma, a professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine and co-leader on the project. “We want to be as agile and nimble as possible in targeting public health interventions in communities across the state. Timely data can improve local interventions, which we believe will be helpful for prevention of overdose.”

Modeled after other mortality review teams, overdose fatality review teams review the factors that may have contributed to a person’s death from overdose and then use that information to inform local policies, procedures and interventions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which ranked Indiana 13th in the nation with 36.7 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, considers the teams a best practice for addressing overdose deaths.

“The overdose crisis continues to be a pressing public health issue in Indiana,” said Douglas Huntsinger, executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement, and chair of the Indiana Commission to Combat Substance Use Disorder. “Overdose fatality review teams combine the local expertise necessary to prevent overdose with a community-level perspective, and we rely upon their recommendations as a key component of Indiana’s strategy to reduce the fatal impact of substance use in our communities.”

Using data available through state partners, including the Indiana Department of Health, the researchers will work with county-based local overdose fatality review teams to provide more timely overdose event and death data to improve local action.

“Indiana is an ideal state for this work,” said Brad Ray, senior researcher at RTI International and co-leader on the project. “More than any other state, Indiana has facilitated the creation of localized overdose fatality review teams to enact prevention efforts that are tailored to their community.”

Overdose fatality review teams often review a single death or a small group of cases at a time, which does not provide generalizable data about what is occurring within the community.

Khairi Reda, an associate professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI and a leader on the project, will work with local and state partners to aggregate data from across Indiana and create visualizations to illustrate ‘touchpoints’ – opportunities to deliver harm reduction services to individuals who are at an elevated risk of overdose.

“Indiana has made really good investments and progress in doing data integration across the state, and we will put the data into action and use it to discover how we can prevent overdose deaths and improve the lives of Hoosiers,” Reda said. “Our dashboards will help overdose fatality review teams dig into the data to determine if there are appropriate circumstances where care can be provided and then implemented to contribute to lowering overdose deaths in Indiana.”

This research is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (Award Number R61DA057660).

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