Tech-Based Solutions for the Opioid Crisis

October 8, 2018 4:07 pm PST | Data as a Service

California’s opioid crisis hit hard.

For some regions within the state, overdose deaths are higher than the national average.

At the Opioid West Hack-A-Thon+ 2018, taking place Oct. 14 and 15, participants will work together to come up with solutions to this growing epidemic. The event is a West Coast follow-up to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Opioid Symposium and Code-a-Thon, which took place earlier this year in Washington, D.C.

Hosted by the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology (UCIPT), the event features HHS, and will have four tracks for participants:

  • Developing applications for ethical and secure sharing of opioid-related data
  • Designing personalized behavior change apps
  • Prediction models and visualization tools to prevent addiction and overdose
  • Prediction models and visualization tools to show integrative therapeutic approaches

“There are more than 100 people dying of opioid overdose in the U.S. every day. We need new technological solutions to be able to help address this problem.”

Dr. Sean Young, Executive Director of University of California Institute for Prediction Technology

UCIPT develops models, maps, and tools to help predict the spread of disease and other public health problems, says Sean Young, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the institute.

“Once we can predict something, we can develop technology-based interventions to change it,” says Dr. Young.

During the hackathon, 25 interdisciplinary teams will assemble and develop a solution in one of the four tracks. To fuel their ideation, teams will have access to 150 opioid-related datasets, as well as data on cannabis and other alternative treatment approaches and datasets from California agencies.

“I have a strong belief that bringing together diverse teams of engineers, technologists, public health people, patients and families affected by the crisis, [and] people understanding the ethical issues, can really contribute and help develop solutions that could go a long way in addressing this crisis,” says Dr. Young.


A Focus on Implementation

Developing sound, effective solutions is just one focus for this particular hackathon. Another priority is moving solutions from idea to policy.

Often, after a hackathon, people return to their everyday work and school routine, and the momentum from the event passes.

“We want to focus on implementation,” says Dr. Young.

That means teams will continue working together after the event, with the goal of seeing their solutions used public health venues. 

An advisory board made up of researchers and stakeholders from the federal, state, and regional level, as well as patients and families personally affected by opioids, will be involved throughout, vetting teams, judging solutions, and providing mentorship. The board will ensure that the winning ideas have a high likelihood of being implemented and will serve as champions for solutions, says Dr. Young.

As well, support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), and a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Helping End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, will help event organizers study how hackathons can address public health problems. The funding will provide mentorship to winning teams, and cover travel expenses to meet key stakeholders and attend conferences. The grant will also cover following up with hackathon participants to examine barriers to implementation.

A successful event, therefore, will generate new ideas and insights on the opioid crisis, and will also result in participants’ continued engagement and a new understanding of what’s required to host a successful hackathon in the future, says Dr. Young.

“There are more than 100 people dying of opioid overdose in the U.S. every day,” Dr. Young says. “We need new technological solutions to be able to help address this problem.”


Get Involved

A few open spots remain for participants at the Opioid West Hack-a-Thon. Find out more about how to join a team.

Or, register to attend the symposium — with speakers including Mona Siddiqui, MD, MPH, Chief Data Officer of HHS; Tony Rackauckas, JD (District Attorney of Orange County); April Rovero (Founder/Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse); and others.

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