Virginia’s ‘Model’ Opioid Data-Sharing Platform Nearly Ready

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As the epidemic’s death toll rises, the state is working to get more information into the hands of regional substance abuse coalitions to mitigate deaths and other negative impacts.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services wants to improve local response to the opioid crisis using a new data-sharing and analysis platform.

In 2016, 1,268 people died from opioid overdoses in the state, and 4,076 more had opioid overdose-reversing Narcan administered to them by emergency medical services, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The state’s proposed platform will help local partners make data-based decisions about opioid policies, programs and projects, and performance and improvement.

“[Virginia has] the data, but it’s across multiple agencies—all of them, really,” Jake Bittner, CEO of Qlarion, told Route Fifty. “How can we create a program of data sharing, where we can uphold all of the data privacy requirements but bring together all the datasets from across the commonwealth?”

The Reston-based data analytics firm won the contract to build the platform earlier this month, using a U.S. Department of Justice Technology Innovation for Public Safety grant.

Regional substance abuse coalition centers will be the first users, starting with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, which is expected to soon get access to data. The coalitions unite community stakeholders, including law enforcement and health care providers, who look at area trends to determine what opioid treatment programs are needed and what resources are available.

And DCJS can determine whether it wants to fund an educational program geared toward high school students in Winchester or a rehabilitation program in Fredericksburg, Bittner said.

“Virginia saw its highest number of opioid overdoses last year,” said Shannon Dion, director of DCJS, in a statement. “We are optimistic that with this data-sharing platform, we can develop models and real-time data to better prevent opioid use, overdoses and deaths, as well as target opioid-related crimes.”

The national opioid epidemic doesn’t just have criminal justice repercussions but economic, educational and even transportation consequences as well, Bittner said.

Mitigating those problems begins with getting feedback from the coalitions on the data they need to make better decisions on the job.

“We focus a lot on the deaths … but there’s a lot of harm that’s created in addition to that,” Bittner said. “So many people died in this quarter in your region—what are you going to do with that?”

Initially, the Shenandoah Valley coalition will receive access to prescription drug monitoring data to track people who may be pharmacy- or doctor-shopping for opioids, arrest data to determine hotspots of illegal activity, and Department of Forensic Science data on substances like fentanyl being mixed with opioids—making overdoses more likely. Valley Health System, a not-for-profit network of hospitals, will also provide data on beds and services available, as well as locations, so first responders are aware of institutions that can handle an inpatient versus outpatient scenario.

Other datasets come from Virginia Mental Health Services on drug treatment courts.

The Shenandoah region should have access to the data as early as October, Bittner said, with more datasets due in December. Beyond that, rollouts to other coalitions haven’t been determined.

“It comes down to which region is ready next; Northern Virginia seems to be one that’s very ready,” Bittner said. “The intention from DOJ was to fund a state-level piece like this to create a model that can be scaled up in the state but also scaled out to other states.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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