How the FDA is Using Data Analytics to Address the Nation’s Opioid Epidemic

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How the FDA is Using Data Analytics to Address the Nation’s Opioid Epidemic

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by Lauren Cahn

Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die as a result of opioid overdose. The enormous human cost is just the beginning, however.[1]  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse in the U.S. to be around $78.5 billion a year, taking into account the costs of healthcare, addiction treatment, loss of work, and the involvement of the criminal justice system. “The opioid crisis is one of the largest and most complex public health tragedies that our nation has ever faced," FDA Commissioner, Mark Gottlieb, noted in a press release earlier this year, and overcoming it will require “innovation.” [2]

Just to be clear, Gottlieb is referring to technological innovation, including information management solution such as data unification and data analytics. The hope is that these solution swill identify social and clinical trends that may be contributing to the opioid crisis. “Waiting for the accumulation of definitive evidence of harm left us a step behind a crisis that was evolving quickly, and sometimes furtively, in vulnerable communities that were too often being tragically ignored,” Gottlieb explained.

Specifically, the FDA has plans to roll out an information management plan that leverages the sort of data unification and centralization technologies described here to facilitate data analytics designed to identify vulnerabilities to opioid misuse that may be lurking within the healthcare system and within community cohorts. Funded by a $20 million grant, the plan anticipates the creation of a large-scale data warehouse to facilitate data analytics, including predictive analytics and machine learning, to:

  • Assess geographic and demographic vulnerabilities
  • Identify trends contributing to those vulnerabilities and the epidemic at large
  • Target regulatory changes to address the vulnerabilities.

The innovations the FDA plans to deploy are in addition to innovations states and federal agencies have been bringing to bear in recent years, including the use of PDMPs (sometimes called PMPs), which stands for Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. PDMPs collect and house information about controlled substances, to whom they were dispensed, how much, and by whom. Securely stored and accessed using circumscribed credentials, can be a powerful tool for doctors and pharmacists in identifying people who may be abusing opioids, whether intentionally or as a result of medical mismanagement or mistake.[3] For example, a 2010 study found that the use of PDMP data in an emergency room  context affects opioid prescribing behavior by providers in 41% of patients, with 61% of those representing a provider choice to not prescribe, or prescribe less of, the opiate than the provider had planned.[4]

Data management is just one of the ways technology is healing what ails the healthcare industry. For more information, check Exela’s game-changing solutions for healthcare providers, payers, and other players here.


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