Big Data and the Opioid Epidemic: Searching for Answers

Raised Numbers with Blue and Yellow Pills

Deaths from drug overdoses increased more than 22% in the United States between 2015 and 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl is now the top cause of overdoses – surpassing heroin – and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that there are over 2 million individuals addicted to opioids in the US. It is a public health crisis of epidemic proportions with more questions than answers, and the information community is looking to Google and other sources of “big data” to help identify the trends that could impact programs needed to create and foster change.

According to a July 2017 article in the Washington Post, “Data from Google Trends shows that search interest in all topics related to drug withdrawal has roughly doubled over the past decade.” Further analysis reveals that these searches originated from areas of the US with high death rates from opioid addiction. Analysis of Google searches also shows that interest in drug withdrawal is highest at the beginning of the calendar year and there may be opportunities to synthesize this data into “just-in-time” intervention and education activities. Prescription monitoring systems and other tracking tools, can help identify those most at risk and put processes in place for better, safer patient care.

Health informatics professionals and data engineers are poised to be agents of change. They have the knowledge and tools to mine information on drug addiction that can inform policy makers and practitioners in helping patients avoid drug addiction. Consumer safety and well-being is the priority. CSIP provides tools and resources to assist consumers in safely purchasing medications online from valid sources that require prescriptions. Before purchasing medications online, patients can utilize VerifyBeforeYouBuy.org, a free service provided by CSIP in partnership with the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. This site can help with finding safe online pharmacies for locating needed medications.

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The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and our 12 member companies have the shared goal of helping address the growing problem of consumer access to illegitimate pharmaceutical products on the Internet. Continue to read this blog for updates on CSIP’s education, enforcement and information-sharing efforts.