Examining Fatal Opioid Overdoses in Marion County, Indiana

An Erratum to this article was published on 21 February 2017


Drug-related overdoses are now the leading injury-related death in the USA, and many of these deaths are associated with illicit opioids and prescription opiate pain medication. This study uses multiple sources of data to examine accidental opioid overdoses across 6 years, 2010 through 2015, in Marion County, IN, an urban jurisdiction in the USA. The primary sources of data are toxicology reports from the county coroner, which reveal that during this period, the most commonly detected opioid substance was heroin. During the study period, 918 deaths involved heroin, and there were significant increases in accidental overdose deaths involving both heroin and fentanyl. In order to disentangle the nature and source of opioid overdose deaths, we also examine data from Indiana’s prescription drug monitoring program and the law enforcement forensic services agency. Results suggest that there have been decreases in the number of opiate prescriptions dispensed and increases in law enforcement detection of both heroin and fentanyl. Consistent with recent literature, we suggest that increased regulation of prescription opiates reduced the likelihood of overdoses from these substances, but might have also had an iatrogenic effect of increasing deaths from heroin and fentanyl. We discuss several policy implications and recommendations for Indiana.

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    In this paper, we use “opioid” to refer to the entire family of natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic opiates, but use “opiate” to refer to synthetic prescription opiates.

  2. 2.

    Missing data were largely due to what the MCCO referred to as a “green sheet”: cases where the decedent died in a hospital and the coroner’s office was not contacted, but instead the decedent went directly to the funeral home.


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We gratefully acknowledge Katharine Heinz, Brittany Hood, and Pamela Young for their assistance in collecting and coding death certificate and toxicology reports. We also want to thank Amanda Garrett for helping obtain prescription drug monitoring data and Mike Medler for forensic services data.

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Correspondence to Bradley Ray.

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An erratum to this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11524-017-0144-3.

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Ray, B., Quinet, K., Dickinson, T. et al. Examining Fatal Opioid Overdoses in Marion County, Indiana. J Urban Health 94, 301–310 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-016-0113-2

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  • Overdose
  • Opioids
  • Prescriptions opiates
  • Coroner records
  • Crime lab