Putting GIS Into Action Against Opioids

Cities, counties and states are already leveraging the power of GIS to combat opioid crises in their communities. Read these two case studies to learn how.

Case Study 1: Oakland County, Michigan

In 2016, almost 750,000 opioid prescriptions were filled in Oakland County. That’s equivalent to 6,035 prescriptions per every 10,000 residents (including children). In that same year, 165 people died from opioid-related deaths. The Oakland County Health Division had a plan to combat these alarming statistics.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department had a program called Operation Medicine Cabinet in place to provide locations for people to bring medications for disposal. The health department used GIS to map those locations for residents, as well as deaths related to opioid abuse, as part of a larger Opioid Open Data Initiative.

Since then, the Health Division has expanded the number of resources it highlights in online maps to include addiction prevention, recovery programs and treatment centers. They are also working on an alternative treatments map, which will be crowd-sourced from the community.

To inform these maps, the Health Division partnered with a number of other organizations in Oakland County, including law enforcement, pharmacists, schools, local judges and other county agencies. This partnership not only allows the division to access necessary data for opioid maps; it also enables partners to gain a variety of perspectives on which maps would be useful for current and future health crises. Moreover, the health department uses the partnership to raise awareness in the community and even push more resources into local areas by having partners use those maps in their own efforts.

To further empower these partners, the Health Division is currently working on elevating its data access. While public-facing data can only be presented on city, village or township levels to ensure privacy compliance, partners such as a drug enforcement agency could access more granular information if the appropriate access controls are in place. The Health Division is creating an internal, secure login system to that end.

For Oakland County, GIS has been a key factor in quelling the opioid epidemic and its role is only growing.

Case Study 2: Sri-County Health Department of Colorado

Tri-County Health Department (TCHD), one of the largest local public health agencies in the country, serves over 1.4 million residents across three of the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan-area counties. Similar to many other communities across the country, TCHD’s jurisdiction has seen a growing problem with the recent opioid crisis.

TCHD needed a tool to clearly communicate complex data about the opioid crisis to various audiences. But collecting and publishing opioid usage data for Colorado was challenging because it is protected health information that requires additional consideration for con dentiality. Additionally, existing data related to drug abuse prevention and programs was being dispersed in different formats to partner organizations. TCHD needed an easy-to-use interface to quickly communicate relevant and accurate information that could be utilized by all the department’s community members.

That’s why it turned to Esri’s ArcGIS Open Data solution to achieve all of the department’s data-sharing, visualization and communication goals. TCHD created an open data site to combine disparate data sources in a single location and then published that information in an easy-to-understand visual format.

The new website houses a number of data and resource maps, including maps on overdose deaths, drug take-back locations, naloxone retailers and addiction treatment facilities in the tri-county area. It also publishes information on the TCHD’s prevention tactics and partnerships, fact sheets about individual county opioid rates and targeted resources on addiction treatment and prevention.

Since the creation of the TCHD Opioid Crisis site, there has been a dramatic increase in both the information available to the public and the community’s understanding of the opioid crisis. The site has received over 9,000 visitors so far, and that number is growing. TCHD’s partner agencies have been able to use the site to identify communities in greatest need related to the opioid crisis and to share maps, graphs and opioid abuse data. This site has also helped generate discussion around naloxone use and syringe disposal locations, setting the stage for next steps in the campaign against opioid addiction in Colorado.

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent industry perspective, “Responding to the Opioid Crisis With GIS.” Download your free copy here.

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