Overcoming America’s Opioid Crisis With Data Analytics

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide titled “Analytics Now: Effective Use of Government Data Today.” Download the full guide here

The flood of data facing government is growing so swiftly that it threatens to drown any actionable information available inside it. So how do agencies discover useful insights among the drops in a bigger data ocean?

Data analytics helps organizations collect, examine and recognize valuable knowledge despite exponentially growing information. These revelations produce more accurate predictions across fields including cybersecurity, drug diversion prevention, finance and health.

In a recent interview with GovLoop, Mark Hughes, Vice President, Strategic Programs and Stephen Moore, Vice President, Engineering at AlphaSix Corporation explained data analytics’ power for combating problems like America’s raging opioid crisis. AlphaSix Corporation is an IT services and solutions provider specializing in big data and cybersecurity.

Opioids’ addictive properties – and the resulting health and financial damage – are ravaging communities nationwide. Criminal, health and medical data offers the potential for combating this challenge, but only if agency officials have the right solutions to harness, organize, and synthesize the data.

“Every application, networking device and operating system is spitting out data nowadays,” Moore said. “Operationalizing that data and turning it into knowledge is the real challenge for the government. It’s impossible for humans to go through and make sense of that data without analytics.”

The opioid epidemic impacts the entire U.S., meaning governments at all levels must assist with stopping it. However, data from these stakeholders is often isolated, leaving crucial insights hidden from community leaders.

“To get a true picture of what’s going on, the more data from different sources you have, the better the picture you’re going to have, and the better information you’re able to derive from it,” Moore said. “Not having access to data can be detrimental to the overall mission of government.”

Data analytics tools like AlphaSix Corporation’s Qato collect the data from all these sources, centralizing it in one location for easier analysis. Visualization tools then help analysts find patterns quicker, such as how patient, pharmacy and physician relationships may drive a community’s opioid abuse.

“One of the strengths of visualization is it allows more freeform exploration,” Moore said. “You can find things that you weren’t necessarily looking for beforehand. It’s also a great way to encapsulate a large amount of data into a more consumable format for humans.”

Data analytics helps combat opioid abuse by detecting anomalies in information from various sources across local, state and federal agencies. For example, tools like Qato can examine opioid manufacturing, distribution and sales for potential abuse patterns.

“There are all kinds of interesting analytics that you could apply to help identify anomalies to help your investigators identify who they need to investigate,” Moore said. “But to do that, you need to have the data. If the different groups can’t agree on bringing all that data together, then it’s a missed opportunity.”

Data anomaly detection helps stop opioid abuse by noticing recurring behavior from individuals like doctors.

“If you’ve got doctors writing opioid prescriptions all over the country, maybe that’s suspicious,” Moore said. “Or if you’ve got a doctor who lives in a town with a population of 10,000 people that’s writing more prescriptions for opioids than a doctor in an area with the population of Manhattan, then maybe that’s suspicious.”

Data analytics can also detect anomalies across larger areas, like entire opioid distribution chains.

“You can put together a picture of who’s diverting,” Moore said. “If a manufacturer sells X number of drugs to a distributor, and then the distributor only reports selling half of that, what happened to the other half?”

Governments can target opioid abuse patterns unearthed by data analytics to reduce addiction, shrink related health costs and end associated crime. Citizens lead happier, healthier lives as their communities heal and refocus resources on other improvements.

Working with experts in the field of pharmaceutical diversion, AlphaSix Corporation created an application that merged pharmaceutical manufacturing data with prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to reduce opioid abuse. The drug database regulated by the federal government could be paired with state PDMPs to observe opioid diversion nationwide. The program’s actionable insights could help government officials best fight opioids in communities across the U.S.

“We see ourselves as a one-stop shop giving you everything you need to do big data analytics,” Hughes said of AlphaSix Corporation. “We’re able to provide folks with the platforms, software and services to allow their analysts to look at their data and turn it into knowledge.”

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