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Data-Sharing Initiative Targets U.S. Drug Overdose Crisis

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has entered into an agreement with Millennium Health to provide near real-time drug testing data.

“With frequent reporting of drug testing data, HHS can work with city, county, and state public health officials to provide resources to help reduce crisis points and save lives,” Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, said in a statement. “The donation of this data is critical for reducing the occurrence of the substance use epidemic and reaching the people who need help most.”

The data, collected as part of and donated by Millennium Health’s Emerging Threat Intelligence Program, include regular reporting of drug use trends from urine test results. These tests are conducted all over the United States across many medical practice types. This information allows for enhanced surveillance and analysis of emerging drug use trends. In turn, officials can see a timelier estimation of these changes before the reporting of drug overdose deaths.

Certainly, these data can provide information about the latest trends, but also uncover startling new trends. For example, Millennium Health recently published the results of an analysis of these near real-time drug testing data. Interestingly, the authors discovered that since 2016, the positive definitive drug test results for cocaine and heroin have declined 3.70% and 21.65%, respectively.

But the authors were most troubled by these eye-popping numbers: Since 2016, rates of positive definitive urine drug test results have increased significantly by 42.44% for methamphetamine and 75.46% for fentanyl.

“While it is encouraging that drug overdose deaths are projected to decrease for the first time since 1990, we cannot get too comfortable in thinking that our nation’s substance abuse crisis is going away,” Bob Twillman, PhD, FACLP, of St. Luke’s Health System, Kansas City, MO, and primary author of the study, said in a statement. “The accelerating rate with which urine drug test results are positive for methamphetamine is concerning for several reasons, including the severe acute and long-term health consequences for the user, and that there is no specific antidote nor any FDA-approved medications indicated for the treatment of methamphetamine use disorder.”

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the Boston Medical Center recently collaborated on a set of best practices for reducing morbidity and mortality related to opioid use disorder, stressing that simply reducing the number of opioid prescriptions is not enough. An article about these best practices, which appears in the January issue of Hospital Peer Review, notes the importance of data-driven decision-making.

Speaking of data analysis, Massachusetts General Hospital recently examined its records to discover an upward trend in the ethics requests regarding opioid use disorder. In the upcoming February issue of Medical Ethics Advisor, insiders share patterns they saw when analyzing these requests and other important issues of which all healthcare providers should be aware.

For more general information about battling the opioid crisis, be sure to listen to Episode 2 and Episode 12 of Relias Media's podcast series, "Rounds with Relias."