Using Data to Support Communities Impacted by the Opioid Epidemic

As recently reported in The Washington Post, the release of a comprehensive national dataset on opioid prescriptions provides a ‘virtual road map to the epidemic.’ Research shows that as opioid prescriptions increase, so do the number of opioid overdoses, and the data recently made available to the public dramatically illustrates this fact.

We see the importance of such data every day in our work with states and communities invested in reducing and preventing the misuse of opioids and its devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities.    

Since 2016, we have worked closely with Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and a number of Virginia communities funded by Partnerships for Success (PFS) grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  These communities receive this funding due to their higher rates of opioid-related arrests and overdoses.

Our own independent analysis of the newly released pain pill data underscores the necessity of this targeted funding. We found that from 2006 to 2012, the rate of pills per person in PFS communities was nearly double that of the rest of the state. Access to critical indicator data like these is vital to ensuring resources are allocated to areas of greatest need. 

Our close partnership with PFS communities across Virginia has centered around supporting their utilization of data to better understand and address the opioid crisis at the local level.  This means engaging deeply with their data to inform and drive every stage of their work - assessing need, identifying disparities, selecting and implementing appropriate evidence-based strategies, and evaluating progress and learnings.

To enable this data utilization, OMNI created the Virginia Social Indicator Dashboard, a resource that empowers stakeholders at every level to access a range of state and local behavioral health data.  Communities across Virginia can now access all the data they need in a single place to assess their needs, inform strategic planning, support grant applications, and guide epidemiological monitoring and planning.

The ability to systematically access and apply data has led to a comprehensive, multi-pronged array of strategies being employed in unique ways in communities across the state. These strategies include: drug take-back events, providing supplies for the safe storage and disposal of prescription medications, community-wide prevention media campaigns, Naloxone trainings, legislative roundtables with state lawmakers, and development of partnerships with law enforcement and faith-based stakeholders.

Our most recent analysis of the data suggests meaningful progress is beginning to take hold.  From 2015 to 2016, as the rates of fatal opioid overdoses continued to climb across the country (and in non-PFS funded communities in Virginia), these rates held steady in PFS communities. While more time is needed to verify positive trends in the data, the state and its communities are now well positioned to closely monitor outcomes and continue utilizing data to guide their work.