Canada’s Opioid Crisis: A battle we must win

September 7, 2017 David Hamilton

Chances are, you or someone you know has been affected by the opioid crisis.  In my case, my daughter’s friend overdosed and died in her bedroom, just feet away from her sleeping parents.  She was not an addict; she was a beautiful young lady with dreams and a promising future.

Her death shattered my naive fantasy that if I could talk to my kids about the risks of drugs, that they were home every night (not wandering or living on the streets), that they attended school (however reluctantly some mornings), that they were surrounded by friends and family who engaged with and loved them, they would be protected from such risks.  Well here’s the kicker, she had all those things too.

In June, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced that the opioid crisis claimed over 2,400 lives in the country in 2016, and the numbers are looking far worse for this year.  We cannot simply police our way out of this crisis. We all need to take ownership of the situation and see how we can help resolve it. Especially the government, because it has a pivotal role, with local and provincial governments having the authority, resources and local knowledge to make a significant impact. However, does one have a clear understanding of the complexity and scope of the crisis?

Perhaps not.

We need to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening.  By using cutting-edge technology and innovative techniques of data collection and analysis, we can uncover patterns of abuse, crime and mortality, and share the results of that analysis with partners and stakeholders.  It will require coordinated efforts from multiple government agencies at various levels, including not only first responders (law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services), but public/private health (insurance providers) and social services (family, youth development, advocacy), justice departments, city officials and policy makers as well.  Once we have access to relevant location-enabled data such as demographics, income groups, medical conditions, and so on, we can develop insights which will lead us to the right solutions.

In previous blogs, I have discussed the role of geography (more specifically GIS) as it pertains to community emergencies, like wildfires, flooding or freak storms.  Through GIS, real-time sharing of data to/from the field and between partner organizations not only provides situational awareness but also offers an accurate representation of what’s happening on the streets, which in turn enables agencies to assess and deploy resources with more efficacy.  The opioid crisis is no different; GIS allows local governments and other stakeholder groups to gain a clearer understanding of the dynamics of this crisis and enables better-informed decisions to save more lives.

On that note, here are some great resources available to get local governments and stakeholders started with combating the opioid crisis:

  • GovLoop partnered with Esri to produce Using GIS To Tackle The Opioid Crisis ‒ an industry perspective, informed by interviews with state and local government leaders as well as conversations with thought leaders from the Esri community, about using GIS to tackle the opioid epidemic.It is US-centric, but so much of it applies north of the border as well.

  • Tackle Opioid Epidemic Solution is a collection of maps and apps used by public health and safety agencies to communicate the severity of the opioid epidemic, promote treatment alternatives and understand the effectiveness of response activities.

  • The Opioid Work Group is a private GeoNet Group, intended to be a space where people from all backgrounds can come together to provide support, discuss how they're trying to tackle the opioid epidemic and share new ideas.

  • Webinar: Smart Communities for Any Community explains how a collaborative approach to solving problems can help communities address issues like the opioid crisis

  • Videos:

The webinar ‘How Location Can Support Opioid Reduction Strategiesshows how a location-based strategy can help you educate the community, track naloxone deployments, report drug activity, measure drug drop-off effectiveness, promote treatment options and monitor opioid response.

The Counter Drug – Managing the Opioid Epidemic webinar explores how the opioid crisis is affecting every community and every demographic (within the US). While the opioid epidemic provides unique challenges – GIS technology enables government agencies to understand who, where, when and why in real time and saves lives.

A final word, regardless of where you are and who you work with, whatever the race or religion, financial or social position of the people your organization serves, the opioid crisis is local; it is close to you.  It may seem overwhelming, and as I stated above, we simply cannot police our way out of it.  It requires coordinated efforts from multiple organizations at many levels in order to better understand what we are all up against, and to ultimately gain the upper hand. 

Put the right tools into the hands of first responders to get accurate data: gather, analyze and share your data and educate the public about the epidemic in your area, and show them what you are doing about it.  With GIS, government and stakeholder leaders can gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening, and can more effectively address the opioid crisis in their own communities. Just like they do for natural disasters, these leaders can use real-time, visual data to better combat this drug crisis – saving the lives of countless Canadians.

About the Author

David Hamilton

David Hamilton is the Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of public safety, specifically (NG)9-1-1, law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, emergency management, and search and rescue. Prior to joining Esri Canada in 2010, David managed the GIS for E-Comm 9-1-1 in Vancouver, and worked for the RCMP at the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games where he managed their Common Operating Picture. Being active has been a major part of David’s personal life; soccer, track & field, skiing, cycling, hiking and now kayaking are all among his favourite activities… Yoga is next.

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