Guest Commentary: Data analytics hold promise in battle against opioid abuse
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 that passed earlier this month includes $6 billion to be distributed over two years to combat the opioid epidemic and other substance abuse issues. As the co-chairs of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives' Opioid Task Force, we applaud this decision by Congress. Opioid overdoses are now the nation's No. 1 cause of death for people under 50, and the death rate remains high across most age groups.
The CHIME Opioid Task Force was created to help bend the curve on what has become a national crisis. As top executives overseeing healthcare IT in organizations across the country and around the world, our members have the resources, expertise and leadership skills to drive change. We have a long history of networking and working together to address healthcare challenges, along with established partnerships with thought leaders in government, industry and other associations—partnerships we plan to leverage to maximize our efforts.
In our inaugural meeting on Jan. 24-25 in Washington, D.C., task force members identified potential short-term and long-term goals that take advantage of strengths and core competencies. The list includes:
• Surveying members to establish their current involvement and interest in addressing the opioid epidemic.
• Using member networks to collect and share leading and emerging practices for dealing with the crisis.
• Working with partners to encourage adoption of best practices, consistent reporting and cutting-edge analytics.
• Monitoring opioid policy and regulation at the federal level and providing insights when relevant, while simultaneously supporting our members who are taking action at the local level.
• Working with other stakeholders to destigmatize victims of the opioid crisis.
We recognize that opioid addiction is an urgent problem, which is why we have already been reaching out to members to identify actionable solutions. One promising approach involves not patients directly but rather prescribers who dispense opioids for everything from surgeries to dental procedures to chronic pain. Sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled and overdose deaths nearly tripled in the U.S. from 1999 to 2015. According to an analysis by Massachusetts' Department of Health, at least 2 of every 3 people who died of an opioid-related overdose had been given an opioid prescription.
Some proactive providers have recognized that reducing the exposure of patients to these potentially addictive drugs at the onset is one way to prevent addiction. Our members have been sharing preliminary data for such interventions, and we hope to make those results available to members and the larger healthcare community at some point.
Longer term, we see great value in standardizing data resources such as prescription drug monitoring programs, which are statewide electronic databases of dispensed prescriptions for controlled substance prescriptions. At present, these databases vary widely state by state, not only by what data they gather but also by the agency responsible for housing the database. Efforts to create intrastate networks are underway in some regions, but variability remains a barrier. Whether the Opioid Task Force leads in efforts to harmonize the data or not, we commend and support these collaborations.
Ultimately our goal is to save lives and improve healthcare in our communities. We welcome the support shown by our congressional leaders to combat the opioid epidemic. We also welcome hearing from others, who, like us, have made a commitment to end this crisis. To contact us, please visit our task force website.
Ed Kopetsky is chief information officer at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., and Jim Turnbull is CIO at the University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.