IUPUI study: Heroin deaths in Marion County may be significantly undercounted

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind-- A new study out of IUPUI says Marion County may have a bigger drug problem than originally thought.

Researchers at IUPUI studied the death certificates and toxicology reports for nearly 1,200 Marion County accidental overdose deaths from 2010 to 2015

The researchers classified 455 of those deaths as heroin-related. For the same time period the Marion County Public Health Department classified just 141 deaths as being caused by the drug.

“It’s not so much that they’re doing it wrong, they’re not doing it in any way incorrect, it’s just how you choose to measure it, Brad Ray said.

Ray says the reason for the difference is because the department uses poly drug codes in their classifications. Poly drug codes describe when one or more drugs are found in someone’s system.

However, Ray says the codes can be unspecific, and tend to not point to heroin or additives such as Fentanyl as the cause of death, or the amount of the substance in the blood.

Ray says specific data is ultimately crucial for establishing the true scope of the heroin epidemic. He argues that once there is a clear understanding of the problem, a better suited solution can be brought to the forefront.

“Measuring those substances are really the best way that we’ll be able to see if these interventions having an impact,” he said.

Earlier in 2017 Republican State Senator Jim Merritt sponsored a bill that would have required Indiana counties to perform the specific testing. Though due to a million dollar proposed cost to the state, Merritt says the bill ultimately failed to gain necessary traction.

“If we’re going to achieve the goal of killing heroin in five years, one of the most important parts of that is the collection of data,” Merritt said.

Despite the bill’s failure Merritt says he will continue to push for more legislation leading to an increase in toxicology report specificity.

Ray says he hopes his teams report leads to more resources for treatment here in Indiana.