States Eye Tech Tools In Opioid Fight


States are looking for innovative ways to manage the opioid crisis. From data sharing to outreach programs, all options are on the table. Opioid overdoses were tied to about 50,000 U.S. deaths in 2017 and many newly elected governors put the issue at the center of their campaigns. Oracle has recently launched a new tool that is designed to help local officials share information about treatment resources with those who are in need.

“The goal of the tool is to match individuals with resources,” explains Bob Nevins, Director of Health and Human Services Strategy at Oracle in an interview with CivSource. In 2015 when Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker took office, his administration began looking for a way to deal with opioid addiction. Massachusetts had treatment facilities already in place but sharing information about programs was scattershot at best. Caseworkers and providers who knew of the programs could make recommendations, but there wasn’t a single clearinghouse that individuals could go to to learn about what was available throughout the Commonwealth. Massachusetts started working with Oracle on an intake questionnaire where people could provide some basic information about what substances they were using, if they had insurance, and be directed to resources that matched their situation. The questionnaire is available online and through a call center.

“The goal of the tool is to match individuals with resources,” explains Bob Nevins, Director of Health and Human Services Strategy at Oracle in an interview with CivSource. “We aren’t asking them for any personally identifying information, it’s up to them to take the next step.” The online portal also includes a knowledge base with articles about treatment. The tool is a cloud-based SaaS solution that can be stood up quickly once provider data is in place.

Other states have also started setting up their own portals using Oracle’s Policy Automation tool. Shortly after the questionnaire went live in Massachusetts, Illinois issued an RFP for a solution and started working with Oracle. Vermont is slated to roll out its own portal this year as well. The functionality of all the portals is the same, although Nevins says that the text of the questions is slightly different state to state. The use of call centers alongside the online resource also varies from state to state.

The differences are often the result of how substance abuse manifests in a given locality. The opioid crisis may be the impetus for launching a questionnaire, but the tool is also used to pair individuals with services if they use something else. For states with a questionnaire, the next phase is marketing. “A lot of this comes down to getting the word out,” Nevins says. “We’re seeing Massachusetts and Illinois working on raising awareness of the tool now so that people know there is somewhere they can go.”

For frontline public workers, the questionnaire can also be an invaluable source of data. They are getting aggregated, anonymous information about what substances are being used the most and what providers are being used the most. These data can inform outreach plans, as well as giving officials a sense for where to allocate resources. That can be significant because substance abuse isn’t only a public health issue. There are often follow-on impacts in areas like child welfare, law enforcement and increased demand for services at community hospitals.

Nevins says that in the future, states could build on the questionnaire in order to allow people to fill out provider paperwork online. Or it could become part of a wider set of tools that states and localities can use to get people the support they need.

“We’re seeing a lot of work being done around how to best use resources. People at the city and county level are often advocating for more money from the state level for this issue and there are ways technology can help,” Nevins says. He notes that some of the big areas states are working on include monitoring what physicians prescribe and analyzing EMS data to look for “hotspots” – areas with a high number of substance related calls.