A comprehensive opioid approach

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Just how bad is the opioid epidemic in Indiana?

Wired magazine lays it out: “The opioid crisis has hit Indiana hard. In 2012, Indiana was among a handful of states whose opioid prescriptions roughly equaled its population. Three years later, intravenous drugs caused the nation’s worst HIV outbreak in two decades, affecting 181 people in rural Scott County, Ind. And since 2013, Indiana has had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in pharmacy robberies, beating even California, which has six times its population.”

The problem is so bad that 38 state attorneys general, including Indiana’s Curtis Hill, are urging health insurance companies to create financial incentives for pain management treatment other than prescribing opioids, unless the medication is for cancer patients. There is even the hint of a coming stick that could turn the request into a directive.

But necessity being the mother of invention, at least one good thing has come out of the crisis.

Earlier this year, Indiana launched an online opioid data center, where police departments, hospitals, pharmacies, mental-health agencies, and others contribute data to help policymakers better see the big picture and not just its piecemeal parts.

The research team, led by Darshan Shah, the state’s chief data officer, built a database that includes information on drug arrests and seizures, death records, pharmacy robberies, overdose-related ambulance calls, and the use of naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug. Officials also used data-visualization tools so agencies providing the data can log in and observe trends over time.

According to Silvia Martins, an epidemiologist specializing in substance-abuse research at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, Indiana’s effort, which involves 16 government agencies, is the largest and most comprehensive approach in the nation.

And it’s already proved its worth. When officials were deciding where to locate five new opioid treatment facilities earlier this year, Wired reports, Shah’s team combined a map of the existing treatment facilities with a map of overdoses and instances where paramedics administered naloxone. Then, they measured the distance between overdose hotspots and the nearest treatment facilities to identify gaps where the new clinics might be most effective.

Such a comprehensive approach, bringing together resources and information from multiple agencies, is what officials always say is needed for all sorts of problems. But such an approach seldom gets off the ground. Now that someone has shown it can actually get done, maybe we will see more of it.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.