White House cites study listing Marion County as a hotspot for youth overdoses

INDIANAPOLIS – Amid the ongoing opioid crisis, a new study reveals Indianapolis has some of the highest adolescent overdose rates in the US, and it’s caught the White House’s attention.

New studies show drug overdoses are now one of the leading causes of death among children, just behind firearm-related incidents and car crashes. This is one of the key reasons why Dr. Rahul Gupta, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said lifesaving tools like Narcan are so crucial.

“Primarily the reason for that is that the drug supply has become so lethal and so dangerous,” Gupta told FOX59/CBS4 in a one-on-one interview.

Gupta shared his concerns about the startling trend that more and more teenagers across the country have been affected by drug overdoses.

“While every life lost is a tragedy, it’s doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. “And it can’t be that way if we make sure everyone who unknowingly overdoses has the opportunity to get naloxone to save their life and get the help they need.”

As White House officials like Gupta push for schools to carry Narcan, a number of recent studies have jumped out. That includes a recent study by UCLA researchers that lists Marion County as one of 19 “hotspots” in the country with at least 20 adolescent overdoses and death rates higher than the national average between 2020 and 2022.

“I am not really surprised, unfortunately,” Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena McGinty told FOX59/CBS4. “Because, you know, we saw a significant increase in the number of overdose deaths overall from 2020 to 2021 and then including 2022.”

According to the Marion County Coroner’s Office, more than 850 people fatally overdosed in Marion County in 2022.

“When you have that high of a number of drug overdose deaths in adults, we know that children are going to be impacted by that,” McGinty said.

Health officials like McGinty say fentanyl has caused major issues, which is part of the reason overdoses increased between 2020 and 2022.

“It had gotten to a point where it overwhelmed the entire system of death investigations,” she said.

Health leaders and law enforcement officials have repeatedly said that fentanyl has often been laced among other dugs, which has unfortunately claimed the lives of Indy youth along the way.

“[Adolescents] don’t even recognize that maybe trying something one time can be addictive,” McGinty said. “We also have had children get access to drugs that were in the home.”

While McGinty admits it is startling to see Marion County labeled as a hotspot, she said the number of local overdoses are starting to slowly decline again.

“It kind of gives us an idea that maybe our prevention efforts that we’re putting into place are working, maybe treatment is becoming more readily available,” she said.

Health officials like McGinty say the prevalence of Narcan has played a large role in saving lives. It has even just helped start a conversation, she said.

McGinty said a large portion of funding Marion County received from the national opioid settlement is going to groups that specifically work with Indy youth.

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