Better Use of Data Can Help Fight U.S. Opioid Epidemic, New Report Shows

November 18, 2019

WASHINGTON—The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic that has cost nearly 400,000 lives since 1999 and shows little signs of slowing down. To help combat this epidemic, a new report from the Center for Data Innovation proposes opportunities to better leverage data to help address problems related to the abuse of prescription opioids. The report calls on policymakers to aggressively pursue more data-driven strategies to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic while learning from past mistakes to prevent similar crises in the future.

“The failure to effectively leverage data has cost lives and caused severe social and economic damage to communities ravaged by opioid addiction,” said Daniel Castro, Director of the Center for Data Innovation. “The opioid epidemic is complex, widespread, and incredibly dangerous, and data can be an important tool for policymakers and public health officials to fight it.”

As the report shows, data can help fight the opioid epidemic in the United States in four key areas: ensuring health care providers properly prescribe opioids; identifying risk factors for prescription opioid abuse; scrutinizing the prescription opioid supply chain; and improving the effectiveness of intervention.

The report offers 17 policy recommendations for improving the use of data in the four areas identified. Its recommendations include:

  • All states should pass legislation requiring both prescribers and pharmacies to enroll in their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) to ensure that complete data on opioid prescriptions is available.
  • All states should pass legislation mandating real-time reporting of opioid prescriptions to PDMPs at the point-of-sale. 
  • Congress should pass legislation requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement unique patient identifiers and require their use for patient records.
  • Congress should direct the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to make county-level data about opioids from the Automated Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) publicly available.
  • State and local governments should facilitate data sharing among public health and law enforcement agencies and qualified third parties to conduct analysis of the effectiveness of interventions.

“Better use of data would allow officials at every stage of the health care supply chain to make more informed and effective decisions about how to combat the opioid epidemic,” Castro added. “If stakeholders are able to successfully leverage data, it will save lives and help ensure the United States is better prepared to address future drug-related public health crises.”

Read the report.