WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2016, drug overdose deaths in Baltimore were exploding and health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen told federal Drug Enforcement Administration officials the city needed real-time data to better manage its public health response.
Four months later, the DEA’s Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) team had developed a smartphone application that could be used by first responders to record the time and location of overdoses and transmit the information to a regional mapping database.
Today, that tool, known as ODMAP, is used by more than 250 law enforcement, first responder and public health agencies in 27 states.
In an opioid overdose epidemic that killed more than 53,000 Americans last year and shows no signs of relenting, nearly every community in the nation is fortifying its public health, emergency medical and law enforcement response. But with limited resources, it’s essential to target efforts where they are needed most, said Washington/Baltimore HIDTA deputy director Jeff Beeson.
Since the epidemic began, a few cities and states have begun collecting data on drug seizures, arrests, overdose deaths and other collateral effects of the opioid epidemic.
Indiana, for example, is working on a statewide, multi-agency database that includes information on pharmacy robberies, overdose-related ambulance calls and the use of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Virginia have declared the opioid epidemic a state of emergency, in part to enable better information sharing among agencies.
But few states are sharing data with other states. And there has been no consistent, timely nationwide data available on drug overdoses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiles overdose death data from state death certificates, but the information is published only once a year and is more than a year old.
According to Beeson, ODMAP is the only tool designed to track drug overdoses by location, as they happen. And the resulting database is the first to support a nationwide map.
The more states and counties start using the free application, he said, the better it will become at analyzing how overdoses move from one neighborhood, county or state to another.