The Biden administration is rolling out a new tool meant to help prevent drug deaths: a nationwide database that tracks nonfatal overdoses.
The dashboard, known as the Non-Fatal Opioid Overdose Surveillance Tracker, will offer fresh insights about overdose rates, the drug supply, and the effectiveness of local emergency response efforts, the White House said.
If effective, the tool could help fill a major information gap. In most of the country, it isn’t known exactly how many people experience drug overdoses but survive — making it difficult to steer resources to specific cities or neighborhoods that need them most.
“Experiencing a nonfatal overdose is one of the most important predictors of a future fatal overdose,” said Rahul Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The new nonfatal opioid overdose dashboard allows us to provide first responders, clinicians, and policymakers with real-time, actionable information that will improve our responses and ultimately save lives.”
The dashboard will display data from as recently as two weeks ago, Gupta said, making it the most current and comprehensive estimate of drug overdoses available. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides estimates of drug overdoses with roughly a six-month lag.
The system will use reports submitted by local emergency response departments to a database housed at the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. Ann Carlson, the agency’s acting administrator, called the new tool a “treasure trove” of information derived from an existing database that nearly 95% of the country’s EMS agencies already submit data to voluntarily.
Gathering more precise data about nonfatal overdoses, Gupta said, represents a first step toward reaching more people experiencing addiction and at risk of overdose. Patients who survive an overdose, he said, are between two and three times more likely than the general public to eventually die from one.
Currently, however, estimates of nonfatal overdoses are scattershot at best. One recent survey from Tennessee showed that for every overdose death, there were eight hospital discharges for a nonfatal overdose — meaning the true ratio of nonfatal to fatal overdoses is far higher. It’s unclear, too, whether the ratio is roughly consistent across the U.S. or varies by location.
The tool will track four key metrics: the nonfatal opioid overdose rate, the average number of times first responders administer naloxone to each patient, EMS response time, and the percentage of overdose victims who aren’t transported to a medical facility for additional care.
During a call with reporters on Wednesday, Gupta said the dashboard will “allow us to know, and for local first responders to know, where these overdoses and poisonings are happening, and how to not only administer naloxone but also make sure there’s a timeliness in response.”
He acknowledged, however, that the tool does have limitations.
In particular, the tool will only capture opioid overdoses that involve 911 calls. Instances of drug poisoning involving methamphetamine, among other substances, would not be included — nor would opioid overdoses where an individual is revived by a friend or family member.
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