N.H. turns to data to combat opioid crisis

Associated Press
Published: 1/11/2019 4:01:48 PM

New Hampshire announced a new initiative Thursday to analyze data on insurance claims to better understand and combat the opioid crisis.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order forming the New Hampshire Opioid Overprescribing and Misuse Project Advisory Council. Teaming up with technology nonprofit MITRE, the initiative will work to address problems with opioid prescriptions and misuse patterns. The council began its work Thursday.

“It’s important to address opioid addiction where it often begins – through improper prescribing behavior and misuse,” Sununu said. “We are pleased to partner with the dedicated members of the New Hampshire Opioid Overprescribing and Misuse Project Advisory Council to identify new strategies to address this critical public health challenge.”

Deaths due to synthetic opioids increased more than tenfold from 2013 to 2016 in New Hampshire, and the state had the second-highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the country in 2016. But the numbers of opioid-related deaths were projected to slightly decline in 2018 and opioid prescriptions have been on the decline since 2013 in the state.

The federal government recently awarded the state the first installment of $45.8 million in grants for a project called “The Doorway-NH.” Under the project, hospitals and others work with local providers to ensure that help for substance misuse is less than an hour away anywhere in the state. Public forums are also being held throughout the state.

The state has also moved to limit the number of pills per prescription and access to opioids by minors.

Sununu said the latest effort isn’t so much treating the problems they already know exist but using the data to predict future problems and averting them before they reach crisis proportions.

“We know the overprescribing of pain medication is what started this opioid epidemic across the country,” Sununu said. “We know New Hampshire has been significantly hard hit, and I’ve always said that New Hampshire has been one of the first states to recognize this crisis. We will be one of the first states to come out of it.”

Jay Schnitzer, the chief technology officer at MITRE, said the state is the first that his company has worked with on a project of this kind. Should it prove successful, he anticipates this kind of data analysis being used nationwide.

“The data suggests the problem is far from solved,” he said. “So we need to look for novel solutions and different ways of dealing with the problem than we have tried at this point.”

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