Can the Opioid Epidemic Be Stopped?

The opioid epidemic in the United States is well documented, certainly appears unstoppable and is only getting worse. Based on research into the epidemic and current responses at Health Solutions Research, we are confident we have a solution. In building our solution, we started by truly trying to understand the problem. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

• Over 20.5 million Americans over the age of 12 had a substance use disorder in 2015, including over 2 million with a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and approximately 591,000 addicted to heroin.
• Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 55,403 lethal drug overdoses recorded in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

And from all accounts, the epidemic is only getting worse.

Why is the Opioid Epidemic So Hard to Contain?

Opioid EpidemicThe Opioid Epidemic is hard to contain because it has many contributing root causes. And while there are measures and tools that try to address specific causes, there’s no means or approach currently in place to take a comprehensive look at all factors.

One tool that aims to help and provides a partial view into the problem is the PDMP.

The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is a nationwide effort to reduce prescription drug abuse and diversion, as well as to enable providers to better care for their patients. The program has been implemented successfully, it has been shown to reduce opioid-related mortality.  The CDC maintains a partial list of PDMP-related successes on its website. For instance, in 2012, New York State required prescribers to check their state’s PDMP before prescribing opioids and by 2013 were reporting a 75% drop in patients’ seeing multiple prescribers for the same drug.

However, not all state PDMPs have achieved the level of utilization nor adoption needed to allow the system to meet their potential. For instance, in 2014, the Maryland PDMP had only 15.4% utilization among prescribers and only 55.9% of those prescribers used the system. While recent legislation is likely to improve those numbers, the driver of low utilization is that too many PDMPs are both difficult to use and don’t present the necessary information to allow practitioners to make rapid point-of-care decisions, such as identification of high risk patients such as those who may lead to opioid diversion, abuse, and opioid-induced respiratory depression. 

But even when the PDMP is used and is effective, it does not address the presence and abuse of illegal opioids, which do contribute to the overall opioid epidemic. Further, the PDMP does not provide insight into demographic trends which impact health conditions at community, regional, and population-wide levels.

So What Can We Do?

In order to truly solve the problem, we need a system that provides deep analytics bringing together all data sources representing all of the epidemics contributing factors.

The GeoHealth Dashboard

GeoHealth Dashboard, discussed in a previous blog, is our proprietary GIS platform with an advanced data analytic engine that merges health data and non-health data that is correlated with health outcomes to address population health challenges, such as the Opioid epidemic.

Leveraging the Dashboard, we are bringing together data sources representing prescription drug information, illegal drug information, population demographic data and trends, along with a variety of social factors onto a single platform with a powerful data analytic capability. Further integration with individual patient-acquired data only aids in risk stratifying patients based on the potential to develop opioid-dependency and resultant morbidity and mortality.

What will the GeoHealth Dashboard Do?

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By bringing together data sources representing all of the factors and root causes of the Opioid epidemic, the GeoHealth Dashboard accomplishes a number of things, partially including:

• Track opioid use-related addiction and diversion.
• Visually the traffic flow of opioids within a state or region as well as the locations of drug-related incidents, including overdoses. The traffic flow can also highlight diversion.
• Identify hot zones not only of opioid-related activity, but also zones that show a propensity towards addiction and diversion.
• Create a patient risk stratification for opioid abuse mortality.

The GeoHealth Dashboard, with its demographic and real-time analytic capability, will offer substantially improved insights into the state of the opioid epidemic enabling more targeted action by law enforcement, the medical community, and social service agencies to collective achieve a reduction in opioid diversion, abuse, and related mortality and morbidity.

How Can You Get Involved and Help

The GeoHealth Dashboard research is funded by universities, healthcare organizations, private businesses, and charity events. If you want to customize the dashboard for similar solutions, please contact me at agupta@healthsolutionsresearch.org. If you want to support our Opioid research efforts, such as by participating in our annual charity golf tournament, please contact Troy Joslin at tjoslin@healthsolutionsresearch.org.

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