Racial differences in overdose events and polydrug detection in Indianapolis, Indiana

Bradley Ray, Evan Lowder, Katie Bailey, Philip Huynh, Richard Benton, Dennis Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: We examine racial disparities in drug overdose death rates by analyzing trends in fatal and nonfatal overdose outcomes in a large metropolitan area (Indianapolis, Indiana). Methods: Death certificate and toxicology records for accidental drug overdose deaths from 2011 to 2018 were linked with emergency medical services (EMS) data. Bivariate comparisons examined differences in toxicology findings at the time of death as well as prior EMS events both overall and by indicator of non-fatal overdose. Results: From 2011–2018, 2204 residents (29.4 per 100,000) died of drug overdose, 18.6% were Black (N = 410, 19.5 per 100,000) and 78.5% White (N = 1730, 35.2 per 100,000). In the year prior to death, 33.5% (N = 656) of decedents had an EMS event, 12.1% (N = 237) had an overdose event, and 9.4% (N = 185) had naloxone administered. Overdose complaint and naloxone administration were more likely to occur among White than Black patients. White decedents were more likely than Black decedents to have had naloxone administered in the year prior to death (10.1% vs. 6.8%, χ2 = 4.0, p <. 05, Cramer's V=.05). Toxicology data illustrate changing polydrug combinations, with Black decedents more likely to test positive for fentanyl-cocaine polydrug use in recent years. Conclusions: Recent racial disparities in overdose deaths are driven by a combination of fentanyl and cocaine, which disproportionally impacts African American drug users, but may be addressed through expanded harm reduction and community outreach services. Additionally, there is a need to assess the role of differing practices in overdose emergency service provision as a contributing factor to disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107658
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Fentanyl
  • Naloxone
  • Opioids
  • Overdose
  • Polydrug
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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