Our Collective Role in Combating the Opioid Abuse Crisis (Part One)

Nationwide, states and communities continue to wrestle with the devastating effects caused by the opioid abuse crisis. Both the public and private sector are battling this growing and evolving epidemic on many fronts, often using reactionary, siloed solutions to combat the problem. Here, we call for new, holistic approaches to solving the opioid crisis and offer insight into innovative solutions that are transforming the battle against opioid abuse. In this series, we offer insight into the approaches that individual organizations can take to help combat this collective crisis.

The gravity of the opioid crisis is staggering. Its impacts stretch from the largest cities to the smallest towns and cut across every sector of society, threatening the resilience and well-being of communities across the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016 there were 32,445 deaths involving prescription opioids- roughly 89 deaths per day; there were approximately one-and-a-half times more opioid overdose deaths than deaths from motor vehicle crashes; and, every day over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments (ED) for misusing prescription opioids.

Unfortunately, the enormity of the nation’s opioid epidemic is growing. In the past year, ED visits for opioid overdoses rose 30 percent in the U.S., according to the CDC, with overdoses continuing to increase in cities and towns of all types.

The opioid crisis doesn’t only impact individual abusers. It affects all of us. In solving this collective challenge, individual organizations including human services, social services, pharmacists, hospitals, health plans, Medicaid agencies, and public health organizations, all have a role to play in the solution.

Where do we go from here?

If we are to truly combat opioid abuse, we must take a proactive, strategic, and holistic approach to solutions that are anchored in the pillars of prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

  • Prevention will require coordinated, informed efforts across the stakeholder landscape to better prevent opioid overdoses and deaths. Identifying opioid misuse and providing early interventions by getting the right information into the right people’s hands at the right time to help make informed decisions will be key.
  • Treatment by utilizing the many intervention points and intersections of opioid abuse with front-line providers across the ecosystem. For example, people who have had an overdose are more likely to have another, making the ED an opportunity for action.
  • Enforcement: Identify over-prescription and bad actors; work to reduce violence and neglect with a mix of prevention, intervention, and community-mobilization strategies.

Ultimately, organizations must take a holistic approach to combating the epidemic. Engaging a broad set of partners and aligning action across the landscape will generate the most powerful response. This is where strategy plays a role.

Developing a unified, comprehensive strategy that brings all affected stakeholders to the table is the critical first step. For example, integrating and sharing data between agencies, making the information as real-time as possible, matching and merging related information, and then identifying patterns, all require collective strategy plans, sustained by techniques such as Master Data Management that enable comprehensive, unified, and consistent data processes.

There are many social determinants including interpersonal, household, and community dynamics that influence substance abuse, so a one-size-fits-all solution won’t cut it. It also means every affected stakeholder must provide a piece of the total solution. There is a pressing need for multi-faceted, flexible, and adaptable solutions that account for these differences.

Data-Driven Solutions. Technology is also a powerful enabler of an effective strategy. On the front lines of the crisis, tools are being designed to share pertinent healthcare data among providers, local governments, states, and public health organizations.

Data and Analytics capabilities can help spot problems occurring across the healthcare and social services landscape. They also create insights and predictions to improve outcomes. For example:

  • Analytics solutions are being used to flag bad doctors and doctor-shopping in state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP)
  • Tracking and alerting communities to rapid increases in overdoses seen in Emergency Departments can enable informed and timely responses and act as an early warning system to identify increases more quickly and more effectively coordinate response efforts.
  • Advanced Analytics capabilities, including risk models and analytical techniques, can help anticipate and meet needs as well as prevent future incidents.

The Power of People. Even the soundest, analytics-backed strategies will fail without an equal focus on the people interacting with technology. Technology is an enabler, but people create the change. Better outcomes for individuals, families, and communities will require engagement, collaboration, and contribution from all affected stakeholders and sectors. Coordinated action between communities – churches, schools, hospitals, health departments, police, physicians, fire fighters, and others – can prevent opioid overdose and death. Change management will enable and harness the power of inclusive, community-based efforts. Working to break down silos and changing mindsets will be paramount. Stakeholder engagement, communication, and education, as well as organizational design and training support are to change and foster an ecosystem less hospitable to the opioid crisis.

Complex challenges often require complex solutions. In future parts of this series, we’ll dive deeper into how specific players and groups can overcome these challenges and deploy effective solutions.