Using Public Dashboards to Effectively Communicate Overdose Surveillance Information
By Kelsey Granger , MHS , specialist , Environmental Health
As the overdose epidemic persists and evolves , modern approaches to display and communicate overdose data are necessary . Approximately 106,699 people died of a drug overdose in 2021 , and polysubstance ( use of more than one drug ) overdoses emerged as a significant contributor to overdose deaths , causing nearly half of all overdose deaths in 2019 . Federal and state partners have begun to communicate aggregate overdose data via public-facing dashboards . While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) has national non-fatal overdose dashboards like the Drug Overdose Surveillance and Epidemiology ( DOSE ), state health departments are also using dashboards to communicate timely overdose data to the public , through close collaboration among public health laboratories , epidemiologists and communications officers .
Rhode Island Non-Fatal Overdose Biosurveillance Data
In July 2019 , the Rhode Island Department of Health ( RIDOH ) began requiring hospitals to submit urine specimens from patients who were admitted to emergency departments for suspected opioid overdoses to the RIDOH State
Health Laboratory ( RI SHL ) for definitive testing to determine substances implicated in overdoses , including opioids , opiates and fentanyl analogues . Since October 2021 , the RI SHL also tests for stimulants and benzodiazepines , and now collects blood specimens which provide clearer information on substances responsible for overdose . Demographic information — including gender , location and age — are submitted with each specimen .
RIDOH overdose information is available in two formats . For data-savvy public health partners , the main data hub is hosted on ArcGIS and features graphic visualizations of various characteristics of non-fatal overdose data . Designed for the public , PreventOverdoseRI . org serves as a central location for all overdose data for the state .
“ The websites together serve as a one-stop shop for anything they want to know around substance use , rather than having to visit multiple pages ,” states Benjamin Hallowell , team lead , RIDOH Substance Use and Epidemiology Team . The centralized nature of RI ’ s overdose data has workload benefits too — since launching the public site , the number of data requests received by RIDOH has drastically declined . Previously , health department staff sometimes had dozens of data requests to respond to per week .
Minnesota Drug Overdose and Substance Use Surveillance Activity ( MNDOSA )
MNDOSA was launched by the Minnesota Department of Health ( MDH ) in 2017 to rapidly track cases of substance misuse and overdose resulting in hospitalization . Specimens are submitted by hospital partners to the Minnesota Public Health Laboratory for detailed toxicology testing to identify substances used — including for severe or unusual cases — for which MDH also collects data on the circumstances and risk factors involved in the case . Minnesota tests for over 900 substances to identify substances or combinations of substances present at the time of treatment , which gleans valuable insight on polysubstance overdose trends . To ensure data is accurately contextualized , MNDOSA has close collaboration with clinical and poison center partners , exemplified in this report .
MNDOSA displays data through regularly updated graphs on the MNDOSA website and provides accessible versions of each
This view is one of several available views of the MNDOSA dashboard . Viewers can click on an item to highlight a line in the chart for a particular substance and change the region for which information is displayed
One view of the RIDOH dashboard . Viewers can select drugs of interest and hover over data points for additional information
22 LAB MATTERS Winter 2023
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