Launching the Opioid Mapping Initiative

Photo: Jamie Bradway, Flickr

Overdoses due to the opioid epidemic are now the leading cause of death for people under 50 years old in the United States.  According to data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 52,404 total deaths in 2015, or 144 drug overdose deaths per day. There are also many reasons to believe that these numbers are actually smaller than what is really happening. Behind these figures exist countless families and friends grieving their lost loved ones. When the epidemic first started several years ago, many families didn’t speak out due to the stigma of addiction. While stigma still represents a huge impediment to understanding and finding solutions for the epidemic, many families have started to come forward. One venue for this is a crowd-sourced map: Celebrating Lost Loved Ones to the Opioid Epidemic. This map was created to allow families to share their stories and a photo of their loved one on the map, in order to create awareness of addiction and explain that it impacts great people from all walks of life. This tool has been instrumental as people begin to pay attention to what is happening in their communities. But beyond self-reported stories, where is the real data from coroners, medical examiners, and law enforcement for communities to work with?

Having reliable data mapped in real-time emphasizes the problem on a local level, which encourages citizens to be aware and take action as they realize it impacts their community.

As the Opioid Epidemic continues to worsen, local governments and coalitions often lack up-to-date, actionable data that they can use to fight it. The Opioid Mapping Initiative is bringing together early local government innovators from across the nation who are gathering critical information, such as localized death data, where their first responders are using naloxone on overdoses, and community resources such as prescription drop boxes, public access to naloxone, and treatment locations. Having reliable data mapped in real-time emphasizes the problem on a local level, which encourages citizens to be aware and take action as they realize it impacts their community. This in turn allows for better decision-making as to  where to target awareness efforts, how best to prepare first responders, and how to locate where help is currently available to those in need.

The Opioid Mapping Initiative creates a community of these early innovators to share their practice of workflows, and allows for the exchange of data-tracking methods that are not currently being used uniformly across communities. Their collaboration will be documented and provided as a resource that other local governments can look to as they begin to use data as a tool to solve local problems.

The website itself will consist of three main areas:

  • Apps showcasing this data and how governments can provide the data in easy to understand visualizations for their citizens.
  • Open Datasets that make up the applications above to understand the key elements of data and exposing them for other applications.
  • Best practices, news articles, and documents produced in a series of blog articles that will grow over the course of the next year.

The first participants in the initiative are:

  • Bergen County, NJ
  • Boulder County, CO
  • Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division at CT Office of Policy and Management
  • DuPage County, IL
  • City of Fayetteville, NC
  • Northern Kentucky Health Department
  • Oakland County, MI
  • Orange County, CA
  • Tri-County Health, CO
  • City of West Allis, WI

By all indications, the opioid epidemic will not be resolved in the near future. There is no magic solution to fix things nationally, thus the need for communities to come together. But to do that, communities must be aware of what is happening within their borders— and this starts with location based maps. These early innovative governments can help pave the way for others by equipping local individuals and advocacy groups with the tools and data they need for better response actions and appropriate spending of precious resources to fight this epidemic.

Author:

Jeremiah Lindemann is a Public Interest Technology Fellow at New America. He has over 16 years of working in the geospatial industry and works with Esri assisting local governments in their use of GIS.