White House tracks nonfatal overdoses with dashboard

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The White House launched a national data dashboard that for the first time tracks the rate of nonfatal opioid overdoses across the country, which health experts say will help accurately target resources to areas hit hard by the opioid epidemic.  

The database, which went live Thursday, is aimed at fighting a nationwide opioid epidemic. About 81,000 Americans have died in the past year because of the powerful substance, according to officials. 

“We are hoping that this will be used by first responders, by clinicians as well as policymakers to make sure that we are working to provide that response, connect people to care as well as to minimize the response times and ensure that there’s resources available on the ground,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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In addition to nonfatal overdoses, the map also shows on average how long it takes for emergency medical services to reach someone who is overdosing, the percentage of patients who are not taken to a medical facility, and the average number of naloxone administrations per patient.

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, can typically reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In 2020, naloxone was used at least 155,420 times by health care providers, said Ann Carlson, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

“The dashboard represents an opportunity to provide lifesaving medical care and reduction and treatment services across this country,” she said. “This is critical to our health care and public health communities, researchers and local, state and federal partners.” 

Researchers have mostly relied on data from overdose deaths to inform about the opioid epidemic and policy decisions, health experts say. Tracking nonfatal overdoses offers a more accurate picture and provides the opportunity for early intervention.

People who experience a nonfatal overdose are up to three times more likely to die from an overdose later, Gupta said.

“The problem with monitoring overdoses using fatal overdose (data) is that people have to die for us to understand what’s happening,” said Heather Bradley, associate professor at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. “We don’t want to wait for enough deaths to build up for us to see that something’s wrong.”

The new map shows state- and county-level data provided by the National EMS Information System, maintained by NHTSA, consisting of electronic patient care records.

The surveillance system will be updated every Monday with a two-week lag, officials said.

Experts say data displayed by the dashboard may initially be an underestimate because only people who received emergency medical services will be counted. But health officials say they hope to build out the platform to include more information, including data points looking at health disparities.

Bradley called the map “a very good first start.” 

“The public health system has data gaps that have been limiting our responses to the opioid epidemic,” Gupta said. “These are the things that from a ground level up will help first responders, not only stabilize immediately but connect people to care.”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT. 

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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