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Abt to help Massachusetts extract, review and analyze opioid overdose data


  • Massachusetts seeks to curb high rates of fatal and nonfatal overdoses.
  • Abt is extracting and analyzing emergency department, medical examiner, and EMS records of overdoses.
  • Better surveillance will help target efforts to respond to overdoses.
The Challenge

Identifying opioid overdose events in administrative records is not always straightforward. Not all people who overdose are taken to hospitals, and some overdoses are reversed by administering naloxone (Narcan), which can be done by first responders, family members and friends. Developing counts of these nonfatal overdoses is especially difficult. The challenge is to develop decision rules for capturing information about opioid overdoses—both fatal and nonfatal—in various electronic and paper records kept by different statewide organizations and agencies.

The Approach

Abt and its team is extracting and analyzing information about deaths from the state’s medical examiner’s office, drug-related visits to hospital emergency departments, and drug-related use of emergency medical services statewide. With the state’s Department of Public Health, we are refining rules for identifying opioid overdoses and are collecting other information to describe the contexts in which overdoses occur. We are also surveying stakeholders to learn what information they want or need and will develop reports to be disseminated.

The Results

Information about opioid overdoses is being provided to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose program, a multistate surveillance system. The Commonwealth will be able to monitor accurate data on fatal and nonfatal opioid overdoses and to observe overdose trends across time and place. This will provide an evidence base for the state to develop and monitor interventions aimed at reducing opioid overdoses. Project results are expected in 2019.