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Geospatial Data and the Opioid Epidemic

March 18, 2019

Identifying opportunities for pharmacist engagement in the opioid crisis.

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Utilizing Geospatial Mapping and Public Health Partnerships to Identify Opportunities for Pharmacist Engagement in the Opioid Crisis 

Principal investigator: Laura Palombi, PharmD, MPH, MAT, Co-investigator: Heather Blue, PharmD

In the spring and summer of 2018, Dr. Laura Palombi and Dr. Heather Blue worked with the Geospatial Analysis Center (GAC) staff to map the results of a survey of Minnesota pharmacists. In the early stages of this project, Dr. Palombi and Blue worked with St. Louis County Public Health, Carlton County Public Health, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy and the Minnesota Pharmacists Association to create a survey. This survey was designed to assess current pharmacist involvement in activities known to reduce opioid overdose and current perceptions about the pharmacists’ role in combating opioid overdose, and with results later being analyzed and data mapped with GAC staff. Although originally intending to map only the pharmacist survey data and securing funding through Updraft to support this work, the collaborative nature of the project led to the Minnesota Department of Health sharing multiple data sets with Dr. Palombi in an effort to add context to the pharmacist survey. As a result, the team was able to create zip-code level maps for opioid overdose, Emergency Room admission for opioid overdose, and hepatitis C infection. This data far surpassed the expectations of the research team and of the original Updraft application, and as a result took many more of hours of time than originally intended.

The data paints a telling picture of the status of the opioid crisis, and closely related Hepatitis C crisis, in the state of Minnesota. High risk and highly-impacted zip codes that were once buried within the larger data set of their county are now visible, which will allow for more targeted public health and health care efforts. GAC staff have been able to map zip codes with high Hepatitis C and high opioid overdose rates in combination, which has already led to a shift in focus for health care systems who have learned about this trend. GAC staff have also been able to highlight areas of high overdose where pharmacists are currently not dispensing naloxone, the opioid overdose antagonist, and areas of high Hepatitis C where pharmacists are not dispensing syringes. Also highlighted are areas with high opioid overdose rates where pharmacists are not currently serving as authorized collectors of unwanted pharmaceuticals.

This next phase of work will provide the preliminary data needed to allow Dr. Palombi, Dr. Blue and their collaborators compete for national funding. Additional years of MDH data will be incorporated to strengthen some of the relationships per MDH suggestion. Maps highlighting the areas of interest and summarizing the interesting relationships will be produced in a form that can be printed. These next products will further inform the development and expansion of this critical work across the state of Minnesota and across the nation.

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