Last month, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy unveiled a new data dashboard in partnership with the National Highway Safety Administration to track non-fatal opioid overdoses. The dashboard uses a map to display Emergency Medical Services (EMS) data collected in each state and U.S. territory.
The effort is aligned with President Biden’s latest National Drug Control Strategy, which proposes “targeted actions to expand access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services while reducing the supply of drugs like fentanyl.”
How the Opioid Overdose Tracker Works
While the Biden administration focuses on strengthening data systems to better treat people at risk of overdose, the opioid tracker is a step in the right direction. With the data it provides, users will be able to track not only non-fatal opioid overdoses in each state and county, but also the average number of naloxone administrations per patient, average EMS time in transit to reach an overdose patient, and percentage of overdose patients who are transported to a hospital for further treatment.
The goal of the tracker is to enable service providers and government bodies to make informed decisions when providing treatment and resources for substance use disorders. For example, if many patients in a given community require a higher-than-normal amount of naloxone administrations, it could indicate that a particularly strong fentanyl analog has been introduced to that community. Or, if EMS response times are lagging, steps can be taken to make responses more rapid.
No Substitute for Preparedness
While collecting, organizing, and distributing this type of data is clearly an indication of progress, it won’t be enough to solve the epidemic of opioid overdoses entirely. The tracker displays data in rolling 365-day or 28-day sets. According to the overdose tracker companion guide, however, the inclusion date for the data has been adjusted to only include records submitted “prior to two Sundays before the data are published on the dashboard.” This means that healthcare providers’ ability to respond to the data is limited. The resource also won’t include information from hospitals, schools, businesses, non-profits and academic programs that collect non-fatal overdose information, limiting the scope and context which can inform operational or clinical decisions.
While it’s unlikely that first responders will be able to use the dashboard to respond more promptly to specific overdose instances, the Biden administration hopes the data will provide more insight and better responses to evolving trends in the opioid epidemic, especially as it pertains to specific communities and geographic locations. Policymakers will be able to use the data to address treatment needs in areas where it’s most needed. Health organizations will be able to allocate naloxone to high-risk areas.
Making Progress with Proactive Measures
Still, to adequately address the staggering overdose rates across the country, more still needs to be done. Having naloxone on-hand and ready for use is demonstrably more effective than waiting to see where it’s most needed. Allocating community-based resources not only to overdose-prevention but to longer-term treatment needs as well will drive progress towards ending the overdose epidemic.
With over 100,000 opioid overdoses occurring annually in the United States, it’s vital that tools like the overdose tracker are introduced. But our efforts can’t stop there. Addiction education and resources remain in high demand as we continue our collective battle to lower overdose rates.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.