Family upset over way Bloomington is tracking overdose deaths

"Bloomington Revealed" gives the public access to data on how the drug epidemic is impacting their neighborhoods.
Tracking a drug crisis
Bloomington Old Map
Bloomington Overdose Map
Bloomington under fire for overdose map
Controversial drug tracking website

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) — An Indiana family is slamming the controversial way a local community is tracking a crisis.

A city-run website is giving the public access to data on how the drug epidemic is impacting their neighborhoods. But some believe the tool is putting their safety at risk and hurting the very people they are trying to heal.

"It's like watching somebody die from a terminal illness," said Heather Harlow.

That's how Harlow and her family describe seeing Heather's uncle John struggle for years with his heroin addiction.

"He couldn't beat it. He couldn't be the person that we all knew he could be," said Heather's mom, April Adkins.

John lost his battle three years ago, dying at his parent's Bloomington home.

"He overdosed on fentanyl. It was heroin laced with fentanyl, which is a big problem here in Bloomington," Adkins explained.

Big enough that the city decided to track overdose deaths on a website called "Bloomington Revealed."

"These deaths are happening not just in public places like parks or public facilities, but they're happening in residences and not just any residence, but next door to you. It brings it home," said the city's communications director, Yael Ksander.

Data on "Bloomington Revealed" in a screenshot captured Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (Photo:
Data on "Bloomington Revealed" in a screenshot captured Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (Photo:

For Harlow and her family, it's a little too close to home. That's because this website lists the exact addresses where the overdoses happened.

"It looks exactly like many sex offender registries and sex offender apps where you can just pull up a Google map and look at how many people have overdosed and died around in your neighborhood," said Harlow.

"I do feel like it's a public shaming. I also feel like it's hurting the surviving families that are still living in these residences," Adkins added.

The city says it's not trying to hurt anyone, but instead be transparent in showing where help is needed. The date on the site came from the coroner's office and is a matter of public record.

"The best recipe for success in terms of addressing the problem is by making data more accessible," Ksander explained, saying the information has been available since early March.

She also said the city consulted with local people working on the front lines of addressing the opioid epidemic.

"There's been a great degree of public engagement all the way through," Ksander said.

Harlow worries though someone will see her grandparents' address and think they can find drugs there.

"This isn't an issue about trying to hide the statistics. It's about their safety," Harlow said.

She's also concerned it could make it harder for them to sell the home.

"It's the shaming aspect that could devalue houses in that regard," she added. "There's more constructive ways to display this information than pinpointing people's individual homes."

People, she said, have already paid a terrible price because of addiction.

"Now they're being forced to pay by the city," Harlow added.

Officials with the City of Bloomington held a meeting Tuesday to talk about these recent concerns, but no decision has been made.