The scourge of opioid addiction not only takes a devastating physiological, mental, psychological and emotional toll on the person but is also detrimental to the community and society in multiple ways. Globally around 200,000 people lose their lives to drugs and opioid addiction each year and opioid addiction has almost assumed an endemic proportion in North America, with 1 out of 4 drug addicts estimated to be from this region, as per United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Among narcotic and other psychotropic substances, opioids are the most heavily abused drugs and the ones that are available in streets despite stringent drug laws, unsparingly punitive measures for peddlers and traffickers, and high-profile campaigns like ‘War on Drugs’.
In order to combat the menace of drug addiction, what is needed more than stringent laws and policy approaches is community outreach, creating awareness, building proper channels for support and rehabilitation, removing the prevalent stigma around drugs and treating it as a health problem rather than a moral or ethical abomination.
Mapping Naloxone the lifesaver
Esri has taken a noble step in the right direction to both spread awareness and attempt to save lives with its National Naloxone Map. This map displays where to obtain Naloxone and has locations provided stores like Walgreens, Walmart, CVS and dozens of local governments in addition to a crowdsourced component which allows individuals to add clinic sites for Naloxone distribution as well. Accidental overdose and sudden death due to it is a severe problem associated with drugs and Naloxone is a powerful medication that immediately blocks the effect of opioids and restores breathing in a person whose respiration has stopped.
Easy availability of Naloxone can literally save a person from throes of death and for this reason, it is very important to spread awareness about both Naloxone as the location of stores where Naloxone are available.
Jeremiah Lindemann, Esri solution engineer, says, “A variety of data sources were used for creating the National Naloxone Map, starting from the Opioid Mapping Initiative– monthly webcasts where governments are sharing their work on this topic.”
Opioid Mapping initiative is a combination of news about local government mapping, open datasets and the applications that government is providing.
Mapping is becoming increasingly popular as a medium to create awareness about drug overdose and addiction and governments and aid agencies have started looking at mapping and other GIS related methods.
“Naloxone access is a simple dataset many cities and counties were mapping so it made sense to start mapping”, says Jeremiah of the dire need for mapping drug addiction and its unintended effects.
Death due to unavailability of Naloxone or unawareness about it can be fatal. It is a question of life and death.
“Maps listed are important in driving awareness. However, getting real data on overdoses and deaths, then looking at those prone areas in relation to treatment is key. Identifying areas and caps of treatment is extremely important- people are dying from not getting appropriate treatment” says Jeremiah.
Location intelligence played a crucial role in creating the Naloxone Map and North Eastern University is exploring areas where Naloxone availability is low.
Tackling any problem and finding a remedy for it requires a candid acknowledgment and not living in denial. However, due to many constraints and the general negative perception, even cities try to hide the true picture. But this is a counterproductive approach.
Far bigger problem is working with cities and counties trying to get their data out about overdoses and deaths. Jeremiah says, “There are ways to aggregate the data (hexbins/heat maps/randomize the data) to protect identity. But often cities worry about an eye soar around economic development. Those cities being proactive and not hiding the problem are the ones making real progress.”
Overdose Awareness Day
For the International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2018, Esri has also created another map called ‘Celebrating Lost Loved Ones’, which is a unique attempt as it merges story mapping with heartfelt remembrance messages and tributes by the bereaved to those who succumbed to opiates. The project is not only informative but also highly evocative and must have been a cathartic experience for those who lost their dear ones in their personal struggle against the torment of drugs. The map remembers those who lost their lives, gives us a fair indication of the extent of this tragedy and also warns others about drug abuse.
It kindles a fond, often melancholic, remembrance in the loved ones of the dead and brings back many memories which they want to cherish forever.
“Many family members have a similar message of not wanting to forget about their loved one- the map does that. It also in a way has created a community- showing families that they aren’t alone in this grieving”, says Jeremiah.
‘Celebrating Lost Loved Ones’ map has a far-reaching impact in the discourse on drugs and it is inspiring the need to create other similar maps.
“Since this has been launched there have been similar groups discussing other topics under mental health and other issues- suicide, domestic and sexual abuse, homelessness and others”, says Jeremiah, who is the creator of the map.
To eradicate drug addiction completely and make people aware of the perils of substance abuse, a lot needs to be done at every level. There is ample data available but what is needed is proper analysis and mapping it.
“There isn’t a national magic solution- community approaches will be instrumental and it can start with understanding your own community with real data.”, adds Jeremiah.
With innovative solutions like these, we can be sure that public awareness would increase and more first-timers would desist trying opiates for thrill.