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How Data are Used to Help Combat Opioid Epidemic

Scott Proescholdbell

Scott Proescholdbell from the Division of Public Health explains the importance of using data to track the opioid epidemic.

June 30, 2017 — Several data sources are being used by organizations, partners and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to help paint a clear picture of the opioid epidemic, combat the crisis and save lives.

An expert panel from various organizations across North Carolina shared how they collect and use data on drug overdoses at the second day of the Opioid Misuse & Overdose Prevention Summit, held June 27 and 28 in Raleigh.

Moderated by Scott Proescholdbell, an injury epidemiologist and surveillance unit manager for the Division of Public Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, the panel consisted of:

  • Alex Asbun – Controlled Substance Reporting System
  • Dr. Lana Deyneka – Division of Public Health, NC DETECT
  • Dr. Anna Dulaney – Carolina Poison Center
  • Dr. Tony Fernandez – Emergency Medical Services
  • Dr. Zack Moore – Division of Public Health, Epidemiology Section Chief
  • Tammy Norwood – Violent Death Reporting System
  • Melinda Pankratz – Division of Mental Health, Patient Financial Services
  • Dr. Ruth Winecker – N.C. Office of Chief Medical Examiner

Each group collects specific information and provides data to organizations and partners that are planning how to combat the opioid crisis.

Pankratz mentioned the development of NC SUPPORT (Substance Use Prevention, Planning, Outcomes, Risks, Trends), a website portal that provides a wide range of data to prevention specialists across the state. The information includes individual county profiles, methodologies and risk factors, such as high school dropout rates and violent crime. Such information allows prevention specialists to focus on the needs of individual counties to determine a plan of action.

The Carolina Poison Center, which takes calls around the clock for triage, assessment and treatment of poisonings or overdoses, uses data like location, age and product clusters to identify trends in drug use. Each case is submitted to the National Poison Data System, allowing for collaboration with other agencies in areas of concern, such as a sudden spike in overdoses.

Winecker from the Chief Medical Examiner’s office mentioned the substantial challenges her office faces resulting from a shift from prescription medications to heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which are similar to fentanyl but have been chemically modified in order to bypass current drug laws.

The North Carolina Disease Event Tracking and Epidemiologic Collection Tool (NC DETECT) tracks emergency department (ED) visits throughout the state due to various types of drug overdose, such as heroin, which has been increasing significantly over the past few years. In 2008, there were 220 ED visits statewide due to heroin overdose. In 2016, there were 2,266.

Dr. Moore and the DPH Communicable Disease Branch have noted an increase in acute hepatitis C reports from 18 cases in 2000 to 185 in 2016. The branch has also noticed a rise in acute hepatitis B cases from 90 in 2013 to 151 in 2016.

The Controlled Substance Reporting System monitors prescriptions for controlled drugs, like pain medications such as hydrocodone, percocet, methadone, to prevent over-prescribing and increase access to treatment for those in need.

To help figure out how and why someone died from a violent death such as a homicide or suicide, the N.C. Violent Death Reporting System examines information from law enforcement, the medical examiner and vital records data to learn about the characteristics of violent deaths to help prevent them in the future.

Author: 
Ryan Hill