Connecting state and local government leaders
With the right data and analytics tools, community leaders and front line responders can better identify those who need help now and improve the efficacy of overall response.
According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s most recent World Annual Drug Report, overdoses took the lives of nearly half a million people globally in 2019. North Americans experience the highest levels of overdose-related deaths, accounting for one in four drug-related deaths worldwide.
Launched in 2001, International Overdose Awareness Day is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, mourn without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
While getting those suffering from substance use disorder the help they need is, of course, the most important step in preventing overdoses, increasing awareness about the realities of overdoses is just as critical. We must use data to educate the public, lawmakers, health care workers, and community leaders about the impact of overdoses on their community and the actions we can take to prevent fatalities.
Increasing public awareness and reducing stigma with data
Fatal drug overdose rates have increased in urban, suburban and rural areas of the United States over the last few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet public concern about drug addiction has actually decreased. The Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who believe drug addiction is a “major problem” locally declined from 42% in 2018 to 35% in 2021.
It’s unclear why this disparity exists, but sharing public health data can help members of the public, local leaders and community service providers understand the local characteristics of overdose in their community – and work together around a common understanding of what each of these parties can do to stop it.
For example, socializing demographic data about overdose cases shows the public that opioid addiction affects every race, ethnicity and socioeconomic bracket. Likewise, sharing data about a spike in overdoses in a specific neighborhood can alert residents to increased risk and prompt them to reach out to friends and family who may need help.
Empowering front line responders with data
The people with the most potential to prevent overdoses are on the front lines: emergency medical technicians, local law enforcement, community treatment centers, etc. If we funnel the right data and analytics tools to front line responders, they can better identify individuals who need help now and improve the efficacy of their response overall.
Data can be used to spot early trends that may be contributing to a rise in overdoses, assess and identify the most vulnerable areas of a state or county’s population, pinpoint critical research areas for allocation of emergency funds and identify effective approaches and targeted areas for early intervention. It can also:
- Alert EMTs about neighborhoods with spiking overdose rates so they can adjust the allocation of Narcan.
- Allow Child Protective Services to understand which cases involve parental substance use so that they can measure the outcomes of different intervention methods.
- Inform community organizations about which population groups have the least access to services, so they can increase outreach or adjust staffing of peer recovery specialists in hospitals and treatment centers.
Educating the public about which substances cause overdoses in their communities
In 2018, roughly 63% of opioid overdose deaths in the United States also involved cocaine, methamphetamine or benzodiazepines, and deaths from overdoses involving synthetic opioids like Fentanyl were up 52% year-over-year as of August 2020.
Experts recommend that efforts to reduce opioid overdoses should also include methods of mitigating the use of multiple substances. To do so, local organizations and the public at large must understand which substances are causing the most overdoses locally. By providing accurate, up-to-date data, communities can:
- Identify emerging trends in substance use and target specific localities for prevention methods (e.g., distributing fentanyl detection strips).
- Train case workers, EMTs and health care providers about emerging substances so they can quickly identify overdoses and respond accordingly.
- Improve law enforcement intervention programs by drilling down into details about arrests, including substances involved, time of arrest, location and activity (e.g., buying/receiving)
To learn more about International Overdose Awareness Day, visit https://www.overdoseday.com/.