Why we need better data and analytics to combat the opioid epidemic

Mon, 2016-07-18 11:57 -- Compassionate C...

There is a bit of good news about the opioid epidemic in that the number of prescriptions written for them started to decline last year. But that's about as far as the good news goes. The number of deaths from opioid overdose continues to climb – and there's no quick fix in sight. So what to do? A new research brief from Council Lead Partner SAS Institute makes a strong argument that we need more and better data, more and better analytics and that we need to look at nontraditional ways of working together, across agencies and across information systems, to be able to determine outcomes and effect change. It makes a lot of sense.  -- Liz Enbysk

 Numbers highlighted in the SAS brief are alarming:

  • With about 5% of the global population, the U.S. consumes 80% of the prescription opioids
  • On an average day, 78 Americans die from opioid overdose
  • Last year’s total was almost 30,000 deaths from overdose, roughly two-thirds from prescription opioids, the rest involving heroin
  • In U.S. medical schools, the average number of hours devoted to pain education is nine; in Canada, it’s double that -- and for Canadian veterinarians it’s 87 hours

In their research brief -- Data and Analytics to Combat the Opioid Epidemic – authors Jen Dunham and Stephen E. Kearney, Jr. do an excellent job outlining how opioid addiction got to be an epidemic in the U.S. They also discuss some of the efforts to curb it – for example, Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP), which are databases of prescriptions written and filled plus online portals for accessing that data. PDMPs  are helping shut down "pill mills." But as the authors point out, like everything in the battle against opioid addiction, PDMPs have their challenges.

The missing pieces
Dunham and Kearney explain the challenge in coming up with long-term solutions to combat this epidemic:

"Addressing the causes of the opioid epidemic entails a complex information management problem. Today’s information is partial, fragmented, and often not actionable. We don’t have the data to understand what’s happening, to adjust policy, and to motivate physicians and patients to change their behaviors. Without having much more information stitched together, we really can’t make more informed decisions."

Any approach should start at the root of the problem, they say, which is patients getting prescriptions for opioids. "We need to recognize and study the patterns and problem spots in the systems of care, train physicians on better ways to assess pain, and give them the information that will inform and shape their diagnosing and prescribing behaviors for the better," they write.

The authors list a number of insights that better data and analytics around opioid use and abuse could provide. For example, analyzing the populations in treatment for opioid dependence can inform medical decisions, suggest how to keep patients in the health care system (rather than transitioning to heroin), and indicate which facility is likely to best fit the patient’s needs. Better information could also help physicians understand how their treatments and results compare with those of their peers, as well as what specific patterns give early warning of addiction or overdose.

Download a free copy of the SAS research brief to read more about recommended actions and priorities.

More on this topic:

How dashboards, analytics and e-prescribing battle opioid addiction
Small town cop uses Facebook and compassion to change the path of addiction


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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