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UA to lead regional data center combatting opioid crisis

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With expertise and experience in multidisciplinary data analytics, The University of Alabama has been tapped to spearhead a regional center to help communities across the Southeast combat the opioid crisis.

The Southeast Regional Drug Data Research Center is supported with $3.5 million in funding from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The center builds upon efforts at the Institute of Data and Analytics, or IDA, within the UA Culverhouse College of Business in developing Alabama’s opioid central data repository, expanding to seven other states across the Southeast.

“A challenge that state and federal agencies face is the organization and consolidation of data sources,” said Dr. Jason Parton, IDA director and associate professor of statistics. “This regional center will create a hub that develops digital tools and data sharing capabilities to support decisions across stakeholders responding to the opioid crisis such as public health, public safety and law enforcement.”

Researchers with IDA will develop a central repository and provide intelligence drawn from opioid data to assist with drug misuse in the region. The goal is to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of government agencies, law enforcement, non-profit organizations, public leaders and the scientific community.

“The Regional Drug Data Research Center will serve as a replicable model for multidisciplinary research efforts to advance knowledge on drug misuse and abuse in America, to reduce fatal and nonfatal overdoses, promote public safety, and support prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services,” Parton said.

The nation’s opioid crisis continues to cause significant issues for people and communities. Organizations active in abating the crisis, however, often find it difficult to find reliable data, comprehensive analysis and actionable insights because of a lack of shared information and potential bias or oversimplification in reporting scholarly research by media, lobbyists or on social media.

“These challenges constrain the ability to develop effective drug policies,” Parton said.

Like the Alabama Central Data Repository, the new regional center will collect data from state government agencies that include law enforcement and public health for information pertaining to arrests involving opioid use, demographics, and medical and traffic data, to name a few.

The regional aspect will allow for the consolidation of data while providing web-based, real-time, multisector data dissemination across multiple agencies across state lines. The center will issue reports and coordinate an annual meeting for stakeholders interested in drug-related data findings and analytic techniques.

“The illicit drug environment in a neighboring state can affect the drug-related activities of a state’s constituents,” said Dr. Matthew Hudnall, IDA deputy director and assistant professor of management information systems who leads the Alabama opioid project.

At UA, the regional center expands opportunities for students to participate in the experiential learning and real-world training of the IDA, enhancing skills in collecting, organizing, managing, securing, analyzing and communicating data analysis.

Along with Alabama, other states included are Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Along with Parton and Hudnall, other Culverhouse faculty involved with the project include Dr. Dwight Lewis, IDA associate director and assistant professor of management, and Dr. James J. Cochran, professor of applied statistics and Culverhouse associate dean.

(Courtesy of University of Alabama)

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