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RTI to help inform harm reduction strategies, prevent overdose deaths in Indiana with new NIH grant

Researchers will work with overdose fatality review teams in 19 counties in Indiana as part of the project

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and Indiana University 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 Indiana counties to measure, access and improve the effectiveness of harm reduction practices. With more timely reporting of data and knowing what local systems individuals interact with on a broader scale, the researchers hope they can help communities develop harm reduction practices that will save lives.

“Indiana is an ideal state for this work,” said Brad Ray, Ph.D., a senior researcher at RTI and co-principal investigator 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.”

Modeled after other mortality review teams, overdose fatality review teams are groups of individuals who review 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, considers the teams a best practice for addressing overdose deaths.

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 improved, more-timely overdose event and death data to help improve local action.

“We are in an overdose crisis, with hundreds of events of overdose occurring in Indiana, and many Hoosiers are dying on a regular basis,” said Matthew Aalsma, a professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine and co-principal investigator 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.”

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.

“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 chairman 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.”