Improving Opioid Overdose

Modeling for Policy Change

By Bonnie Tse

December 9, 2021

In the summer of 2021, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded Bruce R. Schackman, CHERISH director and Saul P. Steinberg Distinguished Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Natasha Martin, CHERISH Research Affiliate and associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Diego, a scientific conference grant to provide simulation modeling groups an opportunity to swiftly develop best modeling practices to inform public policy and reduce fatal opioid overdoses and injection-related hepatitis C and HIV infections in North America.

Drug overdose deaths have been increasing rapidly in the United States, contributing to nearly 90,000 deaths in the 12 months ending November 2020. Overdose deaths have also been rising in Canada during 2020, and the risks for greater opioid use are increasing in Mexico. Simulation models have demonstrated their relevance in informing policies and interventions to control the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to be a valuable tool to address the opioid crisis that is surging in this continent.

In November 2021, the organizing committee, including Schackman, Martin, Population Data & Modeling Core Director Benjamin Linas, and CHERISH Research Affiliate Ahmed Bayoumi, hosted the first conference, “Improving Opioid Overdose Modeling for Policy Change.” The forum was divided into three sessions and featured a robust panel who discussed their work happening on the ground across North America: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Mexico City, and New York.

“Addressing Public Health Data Gaps,” was chaired by Eli Rosenberg, Deputy Director for Science, in the Office of Public Health, at the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Albany. Panelists included:

  • Amanda Slaunwhite, PhD, Provincial Overdose Cohort at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver, BC
  • Angélica Ospina-Escobar, PhD, CIDE-Central Region, Mexico City
  • Allan Clear, New York State Department of Health, New York, NY

“Engaging People with Lived Experience: Best Practices,” was chaired by Bayoumi, a professor in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto. Panelists included:

  • Zoe Dodd, MS, South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Toronto, ON
  • Rubén Diazconti, MS, Clínica Condesa, Mexico City
  • David Frank, PhD, NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York, NY
  • Annick Borquez, PhD, University of California San Diego, San Diego, CA

“How Can Models Inform Overdose Prevention in Criminal Justice Settings?” was chaired by Sarah Larney, an assistant professor at the University of Montreal. Panelists included:

  • Harold Pollack, PhD, MPP, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • Leo Beletsky, JD, MPH, School of Law and Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University, Boston, MA
  • Jonathan Giftos, MD, Project Renewal, New York, NY

During the next three years, Schackman and Martin will bring simulation modelers and policymakers together to further the science of simulation modeling by addressing issues of model design, data availability, integrity, and translation. This NIDA grant builds on previous workshops co-sponsored by the CHERISH in 2018 and 2019 and will also support the development of early career researchers and individuals from underrepresented minority groups interested in modeling to inform the opioid crisis in North America.

Read more on the benefits of using simulation modeling to address the opioid crisis in North America.