Graduate student team to study Virginia opioid epidemic

A group of graduate students is aiming to fight the Virginia opioid crisis by collecting data about addiction.

The team will work alongside students from George Mason University, looking for patterns within the data that could help lawmakers develop policies to prevent future overdoses, according to a University release Monday.

The project will be part of the Governor’s Data Internship Program, an initiative that gives graduate students internships to study ways to make Virginia state government more efficient and effective using data, the release states.

The students will first look at average rates of addiction for different types of drugs and then rank areas of Virginia based on where abuse is most prevalent. The team will examine how addiction rates correlate with other factors like age, gender, employment and health, according to the release.

Larry Medsker, director of the GW Data Science Program will lead the group. He said the research will aim to answer two key questions: “why is the opioid crisis happening and which areas see the most impact?”

“We would want to look at economic data, differences in age, gender and other factors to try to see correlations and patterns,” Medsker said in the release. “We just try to tease all that out and see where the problems are, why they are happening, with the hope of gaining insights from data to suggest solutions.”

Opioid addiction, which includes illegal drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers, has been a rising problem in many parts of the United States. In Virginia, emergency rooms visits related to opioids nearly tripled between 2005 and 2011, according to a Virginia Surgeon General report released last year.

Medsker said the students will work to pinpoint areas where more data should be collected and analyze data that is readily available. He hopes the research will continue through the coming academic year.

“One of the things we do in data science is explore existing data and identify areas where more data is needed,” Medsker said in the release. “Most likely we would then recommend to the agencies what might be collected or found in other agencies to get a better picture of the problem and possible solutions.”

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