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Ark. gets grant to help with accessibility to opioid-use data

by Tammy Frazier | July 24, 2019 at 9:12 a.m.

— The Department of Justice has issued a news release stating that Arkansas has received a grant to improve accessibility and use of opioid-epidemic data.

This is good news coming on the heels of the recent headlines in news medias that show the widespread epidemic of opioid abuse.

The press release from the APA states that Arkansas currently has the second highest opioid-prescribing rate in the nation, and some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths.

This grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will help Arkansas in creating a comprehensive “data repository system that will enable law enforcement and health care to work together to improve Arkansas’ response to the drug abuse epidemic and opioid-related deaths.”

Addressing the opioid abuse epidemic begins with collection and analysis of data showing the extent and location of the problem, and identifying and employing community resources that are needed. Currently, there is no common platform to readily share drug crime data among local law enforcement agencies. Also lacking is a common platform for health care data such as overdoses, hospital admissions/discharges, and medical examiner and coroner mortality data.

Also, Arkansas has two other important challenges to gathering effective policies to address fatal overdoses:

• Death certificates often inaccurately reflect the role of drugs in the cause of death, reporting them as “undetermined manner of death.” This prevents a clear understanding of geographic differences in opioid-related deaths so we can react quickly when deadly new drugs enter our communities.

• The reporting of overdose deaths takes months to one year, dangerously delaying public health and law enforcement responses to a rapidly changing drug abuse landscape. Stakeholders and policy makers need to understand the circumstances of an overdose in order to coordinate prevention and treatment efforts and effectively allocate limited resources.

Nor is it possible to share data across health care and law enforcement agencies. Arkansas does not have a comprehensive view of its drug abuse environment.

Unlike what is shown in TV on crime dramas, getting reports about toxicology and the cause of death of a person in an unattended death is not at easy as sending the body to the coroner, then sending to a crime lab and receiving the results in a matter of hours.

Getting results from toxicology reports to help determine a cause of death is just is not that simple, not that easy and not that fast as scenes depicted on television.

The DOJ grant was awarded to the Arkansas Drug Director’s Office and AFMC, as a sub-recipient. They will partner with key state agencies and organizations to bring together unique data sources to create a comprehensive data repository that will allow law enforcement, researchers, policy makers, the medical community and other critical stakeholders to access timely information to address the state’s opioid abuse problem.

AFMC will develop an online dashboard that will present various data sources in meaningful and actionable formats. It will be available to the public and stakeholders while maintaining individual confidentiality. These data will be available for in-depth research, timely identification of spikes in drug crimes, identification of areas of special need and resource gaps.

The key participants that will work together on this project include the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Aging, Adult & Behavioral Health Services,Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, Arkansas Coroners’ Association and the Arkansas Hospital Association.

Other data-sharing partners will be identified during year one of this grant period.

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