IE 11 Not Supported

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

Can Technology Help Stop the Opioid Crisis? (Industry Perspective)

State and local governments collect a lot of health data that could help the growing opioid epidemic in the United States.

It’s a well-known fact that much of the country is facing an opioid crisis. Many state and local governments are already fighting this battle through myriad health and law enforcement resources. But there’s more that state and local governments can do to battle the crisis through the use of technology — specifically, analytics.

State and local governments collect a great deal of data on drug usage, overdoses, deaths and treatment through their law enforcement and health and human services activities. The problem lies with how they are using that data or, in many cases, not using that data to its full potential. This is where state and local governments could be turning to data analytics solutions for help.

Success stories 

A prime example of analytics being used to improve state and health response is in Indiana. The state rolled out a crime dashboard that provides a heat map of opioid overdoses from information collected by health professionals as well forensics labs. This dashboard is being used to deploy law enforcement personnel to areas hardest hit with overdoses and ensure they have medicine on hand to counter the effects of the drugs.

Indiana is not alone. Massachusetts is looking to do something similar by leveraging the data it already has to inform decision-making around resource deployment and funding.

State and local governments already collect massive amounts of health data through their prescription drug monitoring systems. Every state except Missouri has a prescription drug monitoring system, and 37 of these 49 states share their data with a national system called PMP InterConnect from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. While sharing this data on a national level is a crucial first step, there are some additional steps that individual states can take to improve the response to this crisis.

What’s missing? 

Prescription drug monitoring databases collect information on patients who are prescribed opioid medication, including things like the type of medication, prescribing doctor and frequency. The goal of databases like these is to catch people who are “doctor shopping” or doctors who are prescribing opioids too frequently.

However, on their own, these databases are limited to these functions. If state and local governments were to combine information from multiple sources, say prescription drug monitoring databases, welfare databases and law enforcement databases, governments could compile a much richer picture of the crisis and start to make more informed and perhaps more proactive decisions.

Governments can provide those connections through analytics tools. Look at other states that have been able to identify and track the crisis from drug acquisition through treatment. Indiana is a great example for other states to follow. By coordinating data from multiple governments at both the state and local levels, Indiana was able to create a comprehensive view that the Governor’s Drug Abuse Task Force can use to attack the issue.

Where better technology and collaboration come in

States can turn to the IT industry for data coordination and data analysis best practices and solutions. Just collecting and storing the data is not enough to make impactful decisions on how and where to deploy resources. Data integration and analysis technologies are also needed. 

Given the historically siloed nature of government operations, this is no small task. State and local government agencies can be reluctant to share information with each other. Garnering the support from multi-stakeholder organizations like a task force or a joint committee can be the key to success as seen in Indiana.

In the absence of a task force, as many state and local governments haven’t formed this type of support, industry should work to bring together IT, law enforcement and health professionals. Government should also look to the IT sector to work as a broker to coordinate the requirements and develop a cohesive strategy that helps everyone come together in a unified approach. 

Rachel Eckert is a consultant on immixGroup’s Market Intelligence team and specializes in IT trends in state and local government and education.