Can AI help stop the opioid crisis?

By | 2 minute read | February 14, 2018

Every day, more than 115 Americans die after an opioid overdose.

And some public safety agencies are using new technology to respond.

New York state’s Nassau County Police Department has rolled out new real-time overdose mapping technology with an early warning system. This tech reveals multiple overdoses in a neighborhood within 24 hours, which helps agencies identify and communicate about a potentially bad batch of heroin.

The mapping system also helps police spot opioid-adjacent crime trends, like pharmacy robberies, and shift resources to focus on reducing that crime. It can also help governments provide targeted resources for education, prevention, and access to treatment.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sees the mapping technology as an important advance in the fight against opioids.

“Our police department continues to innovate ways to gather information crucial to battling this epidemic,” said Curran. And it “will allow Nassau County to combat the epidemic of addiction in real-time.”

As many agencies are discovering, this phase of gathering information is where things get incredibly challenging, said Bill Josko, IBM’s GBS Public Safety Practice Leader for the U.S.

“The more data agencies collect — from more sources and formats — the more difficult their jobs will be,” said Josko.

That’s because the volume and variety of digital evidence data causes complex management and analytical issues. One investigation may have thousands of hours of video and audio footage, IoT sensor data, dispatch reports, and officer narratives.

While the epidemic primarily impacts the United States — costing more than $500 billion yearly since 2015 — it is becoming a global problem.

Prescription drug abuse among teenagers in Canada, Australia, and Europe in 2017 were at rates comparable to U.S. teenagers. In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and parts of China, one in ten students had used prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes in 2017.

Applying technology and analytics can help the fight against this now decades-long crisis. “It affords us an incredible opportunity for the additional discovery of clues and answers to questions we did not yet know to ask, and further, what the data is trying to tell us,” said Josko.

One of those key technologies is AI, which can help sift through mountains of data, much of it unstructured — like video, photo, or audio files.

Artificial intelligence can mine for the golden nuggets lurking right below the surface: uncovering insights and patterns that can speed up investigations or provide a complete view of a situation as it unfolds.

And agencies will need that technological firepower to address the complex, entrenched issues that comprise opioid addiction.A brain scientist and public safety expert discuss how AI and data can help us solve complex problems like opioid abuse and make the world safer.