A new initiative is seeking to visualize the United States’ severe and worsening opioid epidemic while also bringing together local governments that have had early success using technology to combat its spread.
New America’s Public Interest Technology team, which works to connect technologists with public agencies, is coordinating this effort, dubbed the Opioid Mapping Initiative. As the name suggests, a foundational element of it is a visualization of the crisis, specifically a map powered by Esri that shows locations of deaths related to opioid use. Users can click on instances where opioid use has claimed a life and see where the tragedy happened, a picture of the deceased, and a story about who he or she was, essentially putting a human face on the epidemic in order to demonstrate that this is not an abstract problem, that it’s affecting people everywhere and of all different ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds. It’s a timely effort, given that opioid use continues to worsen, claiming the lives of an average of 91 Americans a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The biggest thing I’m after is helping with awareness and education,” said Jeremiah Lindemann, a public interest technology fellow at New America who is coordinating the initiative. “There are still so many people who don’t realize how much of a problem this is. When people see it in their backyards, it goes a long way.”
Along with the map, the other two foundational components of the initiative are a collection of relevant data sets and a network of local governments who have signed on to share best practices. The first participants include 10 public agencies, the majority of which are county governments. The list includes, Bergen County, N.J.; Boulder County, Colo.; the Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division at the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management; DuPage County, Ill.; Fayetteville, N.C.; the Northern Kentucky Health Department; Oakland County, Mich.; Orange County, Calif.; Tri-County Health in Colorado; and West Allis, Wisc.
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