Rapid tracking and detection of drug overdose trends can alert local law enforcement officials and health care workers to possible changes in drug trafficking patterns and other overdose risk factors. Timely information on opioid and heroin overdose patterns statewide provides opportunities for preparation, prevention and public health intervention.
But current surveillance systems for monitoring opioid overdose fatalities and incidents in Kentucky don’t provide real-time data to inform health and law enforcement workers. In fact, the reporting system for overdoses treated at hospitals and emergency departments, which is based on medical billing records, can lag as much as eight months behind actual events. Due to limited manpower and resources, comprehensive data collection for fatal overdoses occurs once annually.
Researchers at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) based at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health recently received a national grant to expedite the collection and dissemination of drug overdose data to key stakeholders. The Enhanced State Surveillance of Opioid Morbidity and Mortality (ESSOMM) surveillance system will improve the timeliness of reporting and identification of overdose patterns statewide. The ESSOMM project will collect geographically specific data on non-fatal and fatal opioid overdoses, involved drugs, overdose patterns and community risk factors. Dr. Michael Singleton, an assistant professor of biostatistics in the UK College of Public Health, serves as principal investigator on the grant and will oversee implementation of the surveillance system.
“The ESSOMM system will provide a more complete and up-to-the-minute picture of the opioid epidemic and problematic areas in Kentucky,” Dr. Singleton said. “Keeping in step with the trends can lead to life-saving opportunities from a public health and public safety standpoint.”
Once established, the system will translate surveillance data from a number of sources into actionable information. A syndromic surveillance system will gather information on emergency department opioid overdose cases on a near-real-time basis, and analyze the data stream for unusual changes in the number of cases or types of drugs occurring in a given area. The system will also facilitate collaboration among stakeholders to develop coordinated risk-reduction strategies tailored to local communities.
Currently, KIPRC and the Kentucky Department for Public Health conduct surveillance on fatal and non-fatal drug overdose, drug abuse and dependence, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and drug-related infections diseases, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.