IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

States Turn to Data to Understand, Reduce Overdoses

As the opioid epidemic continues to impact communities nationwide, New Jersey and Ohio are using data to understand how overdoses impact constituents as well as to inform their ongoing responses.

Opioid pills spilling out of orange pill bottle next to other full pill bottles.
Data is helping a couple of states — New Jersey and Ohio — continue to battle the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic, specifically aiding in their efforts to understand opioid use and to effectively respond to its damages.

The opioid epidemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S. over the last 25 years and counting, and the rate of deaths has increased in recent years as a result of the synthetic opioid, fentanyl. One tactic for reducing opioid-related deaths is investing in getting medication to people who need it. As states look to invest in this effort, data is a critical tool in targeting those investments to communities that need it most.


For Ohio, dashboards were created to guide its response.

This effort started with the National Institutes of Health-funded HEALing Communities Study, a study that took place in four states. In Ohio, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine and the HEALing Communities Study team developed community-tailored data dashboards that include opioid overdose deaths and other opioid use disorder measures for 18 counties in the state.

Screenshot of Ohio's integrated behavioral health dashboard shows text on left and bar chart on right. Source:
Screenshot of State of Ohio Integrated Behavioral Health Dashboard
The dashboards were deemed impactful in these counties, so the state has now implemented them statewide with RecoveryOhio, which is composed of an internal state team with representation from several state departments, boards and commissions. RecoveryOhio was created by Gov. Mike DeWine as his first executive order upon taking office to coordinate recovery efforts, and ultimately, to save lives.

RecoveryOhio Director Aimee Shadwick, who also serves as the designated liaison within the governor’s office between the state agencies and the study team, said the dashboards created as a result of this study are a tool that local communities can use to identify opportunities for improvement. As an example, she said if a community had a high level of EMS runs where somebody receives Naloxone but there was not a correlating high level of emergency room visits, that community might have a need for increased Naloxone distribution directly in the communities to meet individuals where they are.

The study addresses three major areas: increasing Naloxone access and education, increasing the use of medications for opioid use disorders and decreasing high-risk prescribing. As a result of the study, each county will get about $900,000 in funding to invest in interventions in these three areas.

“We've heard time and time again from local communities [about] the desire for more data and information to be able to make more targeted decisions about their limited resources,” Shadwick said.

This was the first phase of the dashboards in Ohio. In the second phase, Shadwick says plans are underway to expand the data sets included in these dashboards to include individuals under 18 and other substance use disorders in addition to opioid use disorder. Beyond that, Shadwick says the goal is to weave mental health into the equation and consider partnerships outside of state government to bring in additional data sets.

As Shadwick explained, the dashboards are meant to be a tool that local communities can use to distribute resources more efficiently, and ultimately, save more lives: “That is the underlying aspiration of the governor and of RecoveryOhio: it’s that each and every day as we launch new projects, like these dashboards, that we're doing it just to save more lives.”

And data continues to affect the ongoing informational sessions the state is hosting to involve and inform communities. The first of 10 has been held, but with each session, the feedback received is guiding topics for future sessions.

“I think, often, dashboards are a really valuable tool for people, but only if they know how to use them and they fully understand the value and also the limitations of what's available in the dashboards,” Shadwick stated.


New Jersey is also using data to fight overdoses through a hot spot initiative announced earlier this month, targeting areas of the state with high disparities of overdose among Black residents; this approach stems from evidence that Black residents have the highest rate of overdose among all of the state's residents.

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) analyzed EMS and law enforcement Naloxone incident data to identify locations where suspected overdoses most frequently occur.

NJDOH identified that the counties with the highest rates of overdose deaths among Black residents are Passaic, Camden, Atlantic, Monmouth and Essex counties; in addition, the analysis revealed four key location types where overdoses occur most frequently: transportation centers, correctional facilities, hotel/motels and apartment complexes.

Michele Calvo, NJDOH director of opioid response and policy, told Government Technology in a written response that the state is working to invest resources in these locations. The state is adding capacity in the areas where overdose rates are highest, partnering with trusted community-based organizations — such as harm reduction organizations, social service agencies, street outreach teams, and health and human service agencies — and deploying health educators to provide Naloxone and overdose education to hot spot locations for on-site storage to improve response in future overdose incidents.

In collecting the data from law enforcement, Calvo said the challenges that existed were cleaning the data — for example, standardizing variations in street name suffixes — and manually entering law enforcement data into the EMS central data repository. Calvo said the state is exploring the best ways to automate this process.

According to Calvo, this hot spot initiative project is one initiative out of NJDOH’s Overdose Data to Action grant, which has funded more than 20 projects to prevent overdoses.

“This targeted initiative builds on other efforts across state government to make services and supports more readily available in communities across New Jersey and especially where populations have been disproportionately impacted by the opioid overdose epidemic,” Calvo said.

Other initiatives to make resources more widely available for New Jersey residents include a Naloxone distribution program for eligible agencies, launched in July 2022, and a pharmacy program launched earlier this year to enable individuals to anonymously obtain Naloxone.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.