Dr. Peter Embi

 

On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The CDC reports U.S. death rates from heroin and prescription opioids remained stable from 2016 to 2017, but this disquieting number of fatalities is unacceptably high. Now, we also collectively face the growing challenge of deaths linked to synthetic opioids.

The opioid crisis is a complex problem, one that requires significant analyses across a range of data types to fully understand the underlying issues and to inform development of much-needed solutions. At Regenstrief Institute, we are working with our partners to create an advanced data resource tailored for this purpose, and we are calling the research community to further action.

As a next step, Regenstrief is soliciting project applications and offering funded support for those selected, to access and analyze a growing set of data assets developed to help combat the opioid epidemic. More details, including how to apply, follow in this column; first, let me offer some background for those who are less aware of our recent efforts in this regard.

Through the Indiana University Addictions Grand Challenge, IU is investing significant resources and creating partnerships to fund projects focused on tackling difficult problems that negatively impact our state, the nation and the world, with the goal of developing and applying innovative and effective solutions.

As a recipient of one of the Grand Challenge awards, we at Regenstrief have been working for more than a year to build upon the vast trove of health data we steward, and enhance it through linkage to non-clinical data resources from partners across Indiana to combat the opioid addiction crisis. Regenstrief is proud to be a part of this important work, which will impact the lives of Hoosiers and ultimately many others.

Before this initiative began, there existed in our state a plethora of data relevant to the opioid crisis available, but it was housed as disparate, disconnected resources. Through the Grand Challenge, Regenstrief has been working with partners across IU, including the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC), the Polis Center at IUPUI, the State of Indiana’s Management Performance Hub, and other partners on the development of a new resource we call the Indiana Addiction Data Commons (IADC). Through this effort, we have identified and linked key, previously disconnected data assets. We have also coupled that with development of a single data access point in order to make it more accessible to researchers, healthcare systems, public health professionals, policy makers and others working to address the crisis.

The data combines information from the Indiana Network for Patient Care, one of the largest healthcare data repositories in the world, with additional health records from Eskenazi and IU Health and non-clinical datasets encompassing social determinants of health such as nutrition, education levels and access to healthcare. All of these elements combine to create a more detailed picture of the many factors contributing to the opioid crisis, offering a framework to expand the capabilities and promise of opioid-related research. Regenstrief serves as a single point of contact for data access and handoffs.

However, we realize that creating this resource is only the first step. Merely having this information available is not enough – we must put it to work!

Last week, Regenstrief hosted its second Opioid Collaboratory conference to discuss just that. About 100 community stakeholders came to the Institute to discuss ways to collaborate and utilize the data available in the IADC to find solutions. In addition to discussing the current state of the IADC and how to enhance it, there was considerable discussion and planning among public health leaders and community stakeholders about how it could be leveraged today. Dialogue also covered strategies to develop interventions to not only address the current phase of the crisis, but ways to predict and prevent the next phase of the drug crisis, caused increasingly by the growing use of synthetic opioids and other illicit substances.

 

Inviting proposals for data-driven research and solutions:

Regenstrief is offering initial funded data access and integration support for researchers to help unlock the potential of the IADC. The pilot grant program will enable data collection and integration efforts. Proposals must focus on innovative approaches to integrating unique data sources that can be accessed through the data commons. Awardees will be selected based on potential to advance research focused on the addiction crisis, prospective ability to generate extramural funding, and fit of research questions and approach with current Indiana Addiction Data Commons data sets. Additionally, the awardees will have the opportunity to collaborate with subject matter experts to determine the specific data needs to answer their pressing research queries.

This pilot funding is open to any Indiana University researcher, with strong consideration given to junior faculty. The deadline to submit is August 1, 2019. You can learn more about it here.

To date, policy decisions related to the drug crisis largely have been based on informed conjecture or anecdotal evidence. I believe that the availability and ease of access to the enormous store of data in the Indiana Addictions Data Commons will lead to more research, and from that research, the information needed to inform policy level decisions and programs, as well as to allow policy-makers and other leaders to evaluate and adjust those decisions based on real-world data.

The Indiana Addiction Data Commons was featured on episode six of The Problem podcast from Regenstrief. You can listen here to learn more.

We need resources like the Indiana Addiction Data Commons now more than ever. This call for ideas is an exciting opportunity to explore the insight and innovative solutions it can facilitate. I look forward to working with you and our partners to unlock the potential of the vast amount of real-world data that is available to address the opioid addiction challenge.

Once again, the application deadline is August 1, 2019. For additional information on how to take the next step toward “Collaboratory Funding for Dataset Development,” please go here.

Finally, I also want to emphasize that while we continue to expand the IADC and this particular funded opportunity requires leadership by an IU-based researcher, (a) community partners are encouraged to collaborate with IU researchers AND (b) anyone else who could use the IADC to address the addictions crisis in Indiana is encouraged to reach out to explore further via our data-concierge service.

 

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