A new regional data center will support communities’ efforts to reduce opioid overdoses, boost public safety and encourage treatment and recovery services.
With funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Southeast Regional Drug Data Research Center (SR-DDRC) will streamline data sharing across federal and state agencies, present systematic reports and statistics to stakeholders and enable multidisciplinary research to support opioid response, officials said in the award’s announcement.
The center will collect data on overdose deaths, drug-related encounters with emergency medical services and emergency departments, drug arrests as well as data from drug monitoring programs, according to the program’s original prescription.
The opioid abuse problem is growing exponentially. Between 2013 and 2019, the age-adjusted rate of synthetic opioid-related deaths increased 1,040% from 1 to 11.4 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Last year over 100,000 people in America died of an opioid overdose, and many more are experiencing opioid use disorder, which impacts their everyday quality of life as well as their family,” said Frances McGaffey, associate manager of the Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “So it’s important to have good data to understand the scope of this crisis.”
Data on treatment systems is also vital for state decision-makers tackling the substance abuse problem, McGaffey said, not just surveillance data. For example, “if your treatment data shows that a lot of people start using a medication for opioid use disorder, but they don’t stay engaged in care for a very long time, how are you going to come up with a plan to understand what’s going on and how you can fix it?”
“As with many investigative and reporting efforts, government data surrounding this issue are divided among numerous state and federal agencies,” BJA said. With access to shared data, the SR-DDRC can help educate local stakeholders and give them actionable insights.
The center’s objectives include facilitating web-based, real-time, multisector data dissemination among multiple agencies across state lines; using regional drug data documents for policy development and reports; developing a toolkit other US regions can use to enhance their data centers; and hosting an annual meeting and webinars to train stakeholders in drug-related data findings and analytic techniques for addressing drug misuse.
The data center will report results to public health departments, law enforcement agencies and stakeholders in the fourth region of the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi , North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“Patterns of drug use are regional, and they don’t stop at state lines, so there’s certainly some value in looking across state lines at how folks are using drugs and how folks are overdosing,” McGaffey said. If there are many overdoses in a particular region, “then people who do outreach are able to really target that area to distribute naloxone and make people aware of the overdose spike,” she said.
The SR-DDRC builds upon the statewide drug central data repository developed and managed by the University of Alabama’s Institute of Data and Analytics. It will serve as a model and technical advisor to other US regions implementing similar plans.