Bloomington to update website showing locations of overdose deaths

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The City of Bloomington announce it will change how it shows the locations of overdose deaths in the city after concerns raised from residents.

The site launched in March as part of an effort to use public data to combat the opioid crisis. One of the many data sets on different issues linked to the drug epidemic included a map showing addresses where overdose deaths occurred.

“There’s no purpose,” Christy Thrasher said.

She knows the impact of the drug epidemic first hand. She said the father of her children died of a heroin overdose in Monroe County.

“I have a 16 year old son and you know since this has become newsworthy, he’s wondering if our address is a dot on the map, I’m wondering if you know the address is, our loved one is a dot on the map with an address right? I think that is incredibly insensitive to the families,” Thrasher said.

The information is public record released from the Monroe County Coroner’s Office.

The coroner said last year, the city saw a peak in overdose deaths. Around this time last year there were about 20, while so far this year there are 14. The coroner said last year they were predominately from heroin and fentanyl, while this year they have seen more overdoses from methamphetamine.

She said the epidemic does not discriminate who it impacts.

“For the last few months we’ve been putting more data up so people not just inside government but outside government can try to get a grip on this scourge that’s really hitting our community,” Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the data has provided insight, including revealing overdose deaths were not happening in public spaces but rather inside residence and other structures.

But like Thrasher, others have expressed concerns about the city making the locations of overdoses easily accessible.

“There’s a difference between legal use of data and ethical use of data and to me that’s where there’s a sort of disjuncture going on here,”  said Alicia Suarez, the president of the board of the Indiana Recovery Alliance.

“It is an issue for families who are hurt by this information, so it isn’t just a privacy issue but it’s also a public safety issue,” Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge said.

Wednesday, the city announced it will change how the addresses are displayed after a meeting Tuesday.

The city said it will replace street addresses on the map with identifiers at the coordinates as to whether it’s a business, residence or public property. Specific address information will remain available by downloading a report located at another spot on the site.

“This is public data that we wanted to make available. We did have continued meetings and will have continued meetings to try to make sure this data’s usable and not causing damage,” Mayor Hamilton said.

But for Thrasher, the site still reveals too much.

“We should be very careful with our data and how we’re using it and I don’t think it’s very sensitive,” she said.

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