scholarship and research

When Brad Ray was 22 years old, he was with a relative who appeared to be very ill. The man was hiccupping, gasping for air, yet completely unresponsive. “We picked him up, dropped him, and he had zero response,” Ray recalls. “So we looked in his pockets and found little pouches of powder. I called 911.”

Emergency medical personnel arrived and recognized the powder as heroin and the illness as an overdose. “We had no idea he used heroin,” Ray says. An EMS worker injected the man with naloxone, and saved his life.

“He literally came back to life, and from that moment on, I realized there was an antidote for heroin overdose,” says Ray, an assistant professor in criminal justice at SPEA IUPUI. And that set the course for research that is changing Indiana policies statewide and contributing to a national conversation about treating opioid overdose.

While he was in graduate school at DePaul University, Ray volunteered at a needle exchange. “It really changed my perception,” Ray says. He began to view opioid use as a public health problem and adopted a harm-reduction philosophy. “You can’t stop drug use,” he says. “So let’s heroin is one in a class of drugs called opiates, which includes commonly prescribed pain medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Naloxone works on opiates including heroin, and can save not just heroin users, but anyone who might abuse painkillers or accidentally take too many.

While completing his Ph.D. work in sociology and anthropology from North Carolina State University, Ray became interested in the connection between substance use and mental illness and how these often intersect with the criminal justice system. “About 70 percent of people arrested have symptoms of mental illness, and of those, about 75 percent also have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder,” he says.

“Ultimately what we need is a standing order provision in Indiana so that family members and potential bystanders have access to naloxone and can use it when necessary. We need policies in place so that people can get naloxone and use it for a loved one.”

—Brad Ray

Brad Ray sits in a classroom with a police man behind him.