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November 13, 2017

The President has declared that the current opioid epidemic facing our nation is a national health crisis. “This epidemic is a national health emergency,” he said. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) has quadrupled since 1999. That’s 500,000 overdose deaths from 2000 to 2015.

The problem is enormous, and resources—money, time, energy—are limited.  In this situation, data can be the epidemic-fighters’ best friend.

Fighting drug addiction with data

The aggregation, analysis, and sharing of accurate, real-time data can make an enormous impact on the fight against opioid abuse and overdose.

By utilizing Big Data and data analytics, agencies, organizations, and institutions fighting the opioid epidemic can get a deeper understanding of where their resources are best deployed and most needed. This ensures that limited resources are going to the places where they’re most in demand, or where they can make the most immediate difference.

Accurate and up-to-date data can help agencies identify hot spots of opioid abuse and work rapidly to respond with targeted resources to help fight addiction and overdose. Utilizing data, they can identify the communities that exhibit the highest risk factors for fatal overdoses and proactively work to provide resources for those communities. These data can also be shared with local communities and key stakeholders to help them optimize their prevention activities.

But the benefits of accurate, real-time data extend well beyond planning a response—it can also be used proactively to mitigate problems before they reach crisis levels. Real-time data can be shared to improve multi-state surveillance activities, enhancing prescription drug monitoring programs. It can also be used to implement and evaluate strategies to improve safe opioid prescribing practices.

Analyzing the outcomes of government programs can help agencies track and evaluate the impact that their strategies and tactics are having on a geographic area and make assessments about which are effective and which are not. This can help them optimize future activities and make better decisions about which programs and tactics should be funded in the future, and which are aren’t a good use of their limited resources.

Battling bad data to better battle addiction

Data has muscle to empower the battle against the opioid epidemic, but there are some challenges. Agencies  such as CDC, SAMHSA, and HHS have limited capabilities to collect, analyze, use, share, and secure their data.

To ensure that these agencies can gain actionable insights from data and track trends, they need to be able to trust the data. They also need the means to collect, distribute, and synchronize their data across networks, systems, and peers. Agencies also need to convert legacy data into a useable format so that it can be contextualized and utilized.

These are all areas where blockchain technologies could help:

  • Blockchain is capable of making information and reports more trusted by clearly illustrating where data originates, when and by whom it has been modified or accessed, where authority to view or edit it resides, and where the ultimate authoritative copy of that data exists. 
  • All data attributes and modifications can be captured immutably, aiding historical reviews, auditing, and legal forensics. 
  • Blockchain utilized as an authoritative backbone for data distributed across government networks and agencies can help ensure all stakeholders are utilizing the most up-to-date and accurate information.
  • Real-time reporting and ad hoc data access leveraging blockchain records can ensure the information is as accurate as possible.
  • Blockchain can restrict access to data and the ability to update data records to only authorized individuals or systems, which increases security.

With limited resources, the federal government faces a massive task in turning around the opioid epidemic. 

Data and its effective management has an essential part to play in optimizing the federal response to this national health emergency. But for data to be an asset in the opioid epidemic, it needs to be up-to-date, accurate, consistent and trusted.

That’s where today’s advanced technologies—including data analytics and blockchain—can make a world of difference.


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