Did you know that over 300 people die daily from drug overdoses in the US? As a pharmacist, I have witnessed the harrowing effects of substance use disorder (SUD) and the resulting opioid crisis on individuals, families and communities.
The complexity of addiction
Who among us does not know someone affected by this tragedy?
I have plenty of stories, but witnessing a family friend lying unresponsive with blue lips and fingertips is a haunting visual that drives my work. It was the miracle of naloxone, delivered by Narcan, that brought her back from the brink of death. This experience opened my eyes to the complexity of addiction and stirred my curiosity for how I could help.
First, I realized, you must ignore your preconceived notions about substance use and addiction. Instead of talking, listen, observe and investigate. These are three lessons I learned as a result:
- Addiction is a disease, just like diabetes or cancer, and is not a character flaw a person can fix with enough grit.
- The stigma of addiction interferes with getting those suffering the help they need.
- Substance use disorder is a complex issue that cannot be attributed to a single cause or solved through a single solution.
Solving the opioid crisis with a multidimensional approach
The opioid crisis is a multidimensional problem. RAND researchers described this as an ecosystem with interconnected attributes like medical care, the criminal legal system, education, employment, social services, homeless services, families and more as a means of looking at the problem more holistically.
Addressing this crisis requires a multipronged approach that considers all of these dimensions and their interconnections.
The power of data and data visualization to combat the opioid crisis
Employing data for this multidimensional problem can be an incredibly effective tool for mitigating it. Stakeholders can gain insights and make informed decisions by gathering and analyzing relevant data with a robust data infrastructure for the ecosystem to explore the linkage of these multidimensional problems.
To effectively use data to address the opioid crisis, we should:
- Gather disparate data from across the ecosystem and use technology to aggregate it from various sources and transform it into a unified, structured format that is easily analyzed using machine learning algorithms for better insights.
- Establish baseline metric data and track progress over time, expanding these metrics beyond overdose deaths and utilizing metrics from the entire ecosystem.
- Use machine learning models and data visualization to identify and prioritize equitable resource allocation for abatement strategies and forecast the impact of different interventions.
- Share data with counties and communities for evidence-based decision making.
- Provide transparent reporting of fund distribution for abatement strategies and outcomes from gathered baseline metrics for accountability.
Shaping a hopeful future
We must work together as a society to address the opioid crisis and provide support and resources for those in need. Using data and data visualization to better understand the problem and track our progress, we can make meaningful strides in saving lives and combatting this crisis.