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Overdose Lifeline Hosts “Community in Crisis” Town Hall to Address Overdose Deaths

We recently hosted a Town Hall conversation along with S.O.U.L., MACRO-B, and the Indiana University (IU) School of Public Health to address community conditions, practices, and perspectives contributing to inequitable opioid overdose deaths, response, and education in Black Indianapolis communities. The Town Hall featured multiple speakers who each shared their insights and analytics about opioid overdoses and how there are multiple state organizations and programs working to deal with the issue and surrounding stigma to increase lifesaving measures. While these initiatives are making significant progress, there is still a long way to go in helping the local community. 

Targeting Key Areas Affected by Overdose Deaths

IU Professor Dong-Chul Seo spoke at the town hall and outlined four Indianapolis ZIP codes – 46202, 46205, 46208, and 46218 – representing 75% of overdose deaths in the state. There are several factors influencing this alarming rate, including access to lifesaving resources, fear of consequences for reporting overdoses, and the stigma surrounding substance use disorder. 

Charlotte Crabtree, Diversity Program Outreach Manager at ODL, also spoke to these figures and highlighted the lack of awareness around Good Samaritan laws protecting those who report overdoses to authorities. There is also an inherent distrust of law enforcement and an expectation of harassment if something is reported, further preventing lifesaving efforts for those who need them most. 

Addressing Misinformation, Lack of Access to Lifesaving Resources, Helpful Legislation, and Structural Racism

Other core themes of the Town Hall highlighted the misinformation surrounding overdoses and naloxone, the lifesaving treatment available throughout these affected communities. There is still a lack of information and resources about NaloxBoxes, which are free naloxone distribution centers, preventing people from taking full advantage of them. 

There is also the issue of passing proactive legislation and confusion surrounding current opioid-related legislation. For example, the verbiage around what is considered paraphernalia deters people from calling first responders in the event of an overdose for fear of being arrested. There are positive signs of future legislation. Recently, a fentanyl test strip bill passed in the Indiana House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. Another recent piece of legislation covered mental health support in these communities. That’s not all – State Representative Martindale Brightwood is starting an education plan next year to train non-profit leaders in opioid overdose prevention advocacy. Town Hall presenters pointed out the importance of community members encouraging reps to keep their foot on the gas with these types of legislative and advocacy efforts when they fail. 

Shron Rucker, community activist and MACRO-B Coalition Member, spoke on how structural racism is contributing to poor mental health and increased substance use in Black communities. He pointed out how the presence of more liquor stores, gas stations, and vacant buildings over things like recovery centers, grocery stores, and banks has a correlation with the increase in substance use. This socioeconomic design has created harmful effects in terms of influencing decision-making within these communities. 

Recovery Through Personal Stories and Combined Efforts

Alfie McGinty, Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner, addressed the panel with personal experience of losing a family member to opioid overdose. She discussed the shame and guilt around substance use for both those using substances and the family members affected. McGinty encouraged people to shed this stigma around addiction and to advocate for each other. 

As Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner, she has seen the effects of overdose opioid deaths firsthand. McGinty shared that Black communities are being impacted at higher rates, and this is due to mental health support and a lack of knowledge of available resources. 

Her words echoed the main sentiments of the “Community in Crisis” Town Hall. By increasing equitable access to lifesaving resources, de-stigmatizing naloxone and addiction in general, and pushing clear legislation aimed at fixing the problem, we can help lower overdose deaths in these communities. Coordinated advocacy and encouraging others to speak up and speak out will embolden lifesaving efforts and reverse the harmful effects of substance use.

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