Data for Good: How Analytics Can Help the Opioid Crisis

The opioid epidemic requires aggressive and innovative approaches, including the use of analytics. This, and other Data for Good topics, were covered at a recent SAS event. Image by Flickr user Cindy Shebley

A person in the United States dies every 15 minutes because of substance use disorder. The number has doubled in the past 10 years as the crisis continues to grow in severity, especially in rural areas with high unemployment.

Using analytics to map the growth of opioid deaths shows the areas of the country hit the hardest, primarily those in former coal mining areas where jobs have disappeared, along with other areas where blue collar jobs once flourished but have now disappeared.

Analytics, though, goes beyond plotting numbers on a map. In reality, there are dozens of computer programs and methods that can track this change. Analytics, though, can take this data and provide predictive insights about the future. For a crisis like the opioid epidemic this type of information can be incredibly valuable.

With predictive analytics, federal, state and local governments can take proactive measures like establishing awareness and treatment programs in high risk areas, working with physicians to curtail opioid prescriptions, and strengthening prescription abuse programs.

New federal funding could be a turning point in the fight against the epidemic. Check out my recent article in Route Fifty to learn more.

Using Data for Good

One of the key messages at the recent SAS Open House in Arlington, Va., was the need to use data for good. While analytics can provide government agencies with insights into spending and operations – helping them not only save money but improve efficiency – analytics can provide good to the general population.

The opioid crisis has been created from many factors. One of the issues is that despite an availability of data – state and local governments, healthcare organizations, law enforcement agencies and research institutions, all collect data on the subject – that information is not always properly analyzed.

Analytics can take this data and find trends and connections that human analysts might miss. It can also show organizations where more data might be needed, and help provide the basis for more informed decisions. Analytics can also show the impact that certain projects or programs have made, providing justification for their funding, or showing where a new approach is needed.

There are so many possibilities with data. The opioid epidemic is only one. Our recent open house showed how data analytics can provide insights into quality of life measures like transportation and education, along with more intricate subjects like terrorism funding.

Each government agency, no matter what level it operates, has a mission. The core of that mission is to help citizens in a different and distinct level. Sometimes that mission can get lost in the day-to-day grind of government operations. Analytics, however, can provide that jumping off point, generating insights to help solve problems no matter how big or small.

Stay tuned for some additional blogs where we will share insights that were presented during our federal open house, detailing several areas where data and analytics can be used for good.


About Author

Steve Kearney

Medical Director, SAS

Steve Kearney is the Medical Director at SAS where he helps lead the organization’s focus on the future of digital health across health care, life sciences, government research and development divisions. An innovator in health outcomes and digital medicine, Dr. Kearney co-developed and implemented one of the first electronic disease registries at Duke Health while also offering the first web-based ambulatory medicine elective at UNC. Dr. Kearney then joined the medical outcomes group at Pfizer where he continued his practical, actionable approach to data and the patient journey. He focused on health outcome insights from electronic medical record migrations, early personal digital assistants, novel health software programs and the first large patient claims databases. Throughout his career, Dr. Kearney has been a trusted advisor on health policy for state and federal agencies.

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