Washington Post, new SAS user group, highlight need to collaborate on opioid epidemic


The opioid epidemic requires cooperation across government, health and beyond. Analytics can help facilitate collaboration. Image by Flickr user Cindy Shebley

I was recently honored to share the stage with government and medical leaders to discuss ways to impact the nation’s opioid epidemic. Hosted by The Washington Post, this event included often spirited conversations on ways to solve this national crisis.

As the medical director for SAS US Government, I have seen firsthand how opioids have ruined countless lives, along with the struggles well-meaning organizations face to provide treatment and solutions. There is reason for hope, though.

Our work has shown that the use of analytics and machine learning can empower these same organizations to make meaningful change. Our goal at SAS is to not simply provide these government and healthcare organizations with the right tools, but to use these tools in a way that leverages public data for the general good.

That is why I am so excited that SAS will create a new user group to specifically focus on the opioid epidemic. The Opioid Analytics User Group convenes those in the public & private sectors and academia who want to contribute to help those on the front lines turn the tide of the rising epidemic. The group shares analytics best practices, discoveries and methodologies and encourages collaboration that directly impacts the agencies, communities and individuals affected by substance abuse issues. Innovating to save lives, the solutions and novel approaches created by the group will be shared with stakeholders in the health, government and technology communities.

I will share more information soon about how interested people can join the group.

Breaking Down Silos

We know that government agencies – from the largest federal departments to small state and local agencies – have data. The goal is to help these agencies break down the data silos that exist to fill in knowledge gaps.

By connecting different pieces of data together, government organizations can learn more about the reasons the opioid epidemic continues to grow and set up specific programs to slow, and hopefully reverse that growth.

There is already progress being made. One state customer brought together 10 data streams from five different agencies to make a policy change. This one change resulted in a five percent reduction in opioid-related deaths in that state. That is progress.

A Lasting Commitment

SAS is committed to fighting this crisis with data. We recently worked with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General to share a toolkit that applies SAS software code to Medicare Part D data to identify over-prescribers. While this is far from advanced analytics, we believe it is an important step in helping government organizations unlock the power of data to fight this terrible issue.

The event at The Washington Post brought together some of the most important people on this subject. I was proud to share the stage with Surgeon General Jerome Adams, DC Medical Examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell, Boston Medical Center Dr. Traci Green, and many others. It is forums like this that provide a platform to share success stories and find ways to work together, that will bring the opioid epidemic to an end.

At SAS we like to say that we discover the best version of what’s possible when we find the best version of ourselves. By working together and innovating like we will in our new user group, we can all use data for good in the fight against substance use disorder.

If you are interested in watching the speaking sessions from The Washington Post Live event, visit this website for the on-demand version.



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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