Can Big Data Help Solve the Opioid Crisis?

Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.1 The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relieversheroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The CDC estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.2  And with physicians writing some 240 million opioid prescriptions to Americans every year, the problem is only getting worse.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting someone who is trying to tackle this growing problem by leveraging data and education.  John Cruz is the CEO of Dr.Proveit!, a company focused solely on helping patients safely manage pain without addiction.  John’s passion for finding a solution to the opioid crisis in America is a very personal one, having suffered a debilitating injury while serving in Iraq.  His subsequent experience with pain management prescriptions led him to question the process and efficacy of prescribing opioids to treat pain long term.  He built his company with the expressed goal of reducing medically prescribed opioid overdoses and deaths across the United States through a culture of compassion that utilizes an innovative technology platform.

When he and I spoke, I shared my own personal experience with having a family member take prescribed painkillers that led to addiction, illicit drug use, and eventually death.  We discussed the fact that in many cases, the patient simply does not understand the ramifications of taking opioids.  They may not fully comprehend how these medications interact with other drugs, how they are processed within their bodies, how to effectively identify signs of tolerance (which can lead to abuse or overdose), and even the simple questions to ask before taking these medications.

John advocates for a new, data-driven approach to the epidemic that is based on a desire to help suffering patients.  While many organizations have recommended MME reductions and modifications to prescriptions as a way to stem the growing tide of opioid users, the results have not been positive.  Instead of limiting use of opioids, these recommendations have caused patients currently on prescribed pain medications to turn to illicit means of gaining the same relief, resulting in an increase in mortality rates and a marked increase in heroin use, specifically (approximately 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.7)

John, along with other recognized healthcare leaders explores these issues in a webinar I recently attended, stating that CIOs can help by closing the data loop.  Clinics, practitioners, hospitals, and others have massive amounts of data available that is simply not getting to the providers at the point of contact in a way that can help with patient care.  Simply cutting them off from the prescription is not going to help solve the problem, but bringing the entire healthcare community together to create a solution will.

As in so many other areas, pain is an area where we need more science. The lack of evidence regarding opioids in chronic pain is matched by a lack of evidence for any treatment in these disorders. Some data actually suggests that opioids can make long term pain worse.  The bottom line is that we need more data before we can take action that will be relevant.

Can “Big Data” possibly be the answer to this epidemic?  Listen to the webinar here.

Interested in learning more? Click here to read about Digital Transformation and the Changing Landscape of Healthcare.

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