Erick Lauber (PI) and Victor Garcia, faculty members with the Journalism and Public Relations and the Anthropology departments, respectively, at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and team members at the Mid-Atlantic Research and Training Institute for Community and Behavioral Health (MARTI-CBH), are streamlining a study titled "Opioid Overdose Death Rate Investigation."

The primary focus of the study examines why there has been a reduction of overdose deaths and drug-use related EMS visits in Indiana and Armstrong counties, while Cambria and Blair counties overdose deaths and EMS visits continue to remain high. In each of the counties, the drugs fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone, and others have been persistent contributors to overdose deaths in recent years. With this is in mind, the drop in overdose-related deaths in some counties in the commonwealth and the increase in others is puzzling at the moment.

The study seeks to speak to those directly involved with the fluctuating drug climate to gain an understanding of what might be contributing to the changing numbers. In each of the four counties, the subject population will consist of coroners, EMS responders, ER personnel, treatment providers, and police (subject population 1). The subject population of the study will also include current drug users and ex-users (subject population 2).

The research subjects in subject population 1 will be interviewed using semi-structured and open-ended questionnaires. The content of the questionnaires will differ from one group to another, but there will also be an overlap in the questions.The research subjects in subject population 2 will also be interviewed using semi-structured and open-ended questionnaires.

In each of the four counties individual interviews will be held with a combination of 10 active and ex-drug users. Also, in each county, three focus groups, comprised of six to eight active and ex-drug users, will be held.

The proposed project will benefit drug users, their families, and their communities in our region and beyond in three ways. It will

  1. examine the understudied causes of overdose deaths associated with heroin and other opioids, a major public health problem,
  2. explore and identify explanations for the decrease and increase of overdose rates resulting in deaths and drug-related ER visits, and
  3. detect and introduce strategies for reducing overdose deaths and ER visits.

General project findings will be shared with project participants and the community-at-large. The findings will be shared in community forums at different locales, such as in churches and community-based organizations.