HHS to Use Big Data in Curbing Opioid Epidemic in the US

Big Data

Photo By USDA via Flickr


The Health and Human Services Department is enlisting the services of big data in its quest to control opioid addiction in the US, according to Juliet Van Wagenen, reporting for HealthTech magazine.

The HHS is allocating US$10 billion from its 2019 budget in addressing the issue, which includes plans requiring states to track high-risk billing activity to control irregular prescribing and utilization patterns indicative of abuse in the Medicaid system. The HHS will use data from state prescription drug monitoring programs in developing a database of controlled substances that doctors and pharmacists can use to check patients’ medication histories and their use of other drugs. Several states have already seen the benefits of implementing PDMPs, among them is Florida, which registered a 52-percent reduction in deaths due to oxycodone overdoses from 2010 to 2012.

Doctors and pharmacists can determine if they need to cut back on prescribing drugs, according to David Brown, director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions, in connection with a new tool that the state will roll out as part of its PDMP. Brown added that the tool will show if the person is doctor shopping or already addicted and if prescriptions are being dispensed at different pharmacies.

The HHS also held a code-a-thon in December 2017 participated by nine teams and 300 coders. They were given access to government data for the purpose of developing tools that can help stop opioid abuse, foster better access to addiction treatment. and promote the healthy clinical use of prescription drugs. The winning team in the prevention created a data visualization tool that helps users (addicts and public health specialists) locate drug takeback programs. The winner in the treatment track used the data to model and predict drug overdoses so that such cases can be monitored better by public health agencies.