LEXINGTON, Ky. — With Kentucky overdose deaths topping 2,200 in 2021, are par of University of Kentucky researchers are creating a surveillance system using artificial intelligence to alert prevention and response personnel that conditions for a surge are occurring.
The Rapid Actionable Data for Opioid Response in Kentucky (RADOR-KY) will use data from federal, state, and local sources to guide evidence-based practices aimed at preventing opioid overdoses in the commonwealth. Phase one of the project is supported by a three-year $3.1 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and illegally manufactured fentanyl, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. increased to historic levels in 2021. Kentucky has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Overdose deaths reached an all-time high of 2,250, with 90% of those deaths involving an opioid.
Co-led by Svetla Slavova, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Public Health, and Jeff Talbert, Ph.D., professor in the College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy, RADOR-KY will use a comprehensive set of data needed to effectively monitor and respond to the rapidly evolving opioid overdose crisis.
The system will use advanced algorithms to rapidly process data and help predict potential overdose surges using artificial intelligence.
“This unique, first-of-its-kind system will not only track and monitor overdose cases but use predictive analytics and dashboards for fast dissemination of analytical results to keep state agencies and local stakeholders on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic in Kentucky a step ahead,” said Slavova, who also serves as interim associate dean for research in the College of Public Health.
RADOR-KY will use data from multiple sources, including the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics, syndromic surveillance, emergency medical services, prescription drug monitoring, Medicaid claims and drug seizure records. It will also track measures related to evidence-based practices such as treatment for opioid use disorder, overdose education and the distribution of naloxone, a life-saving medication that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose.
The project will leverage the expertise of UK research centers including the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, and the Institute for Biomedical Informatics. It also builds upon the expertise and experience gained from UK’s work on the HEALing Communities Study (HCS).
“We’ve harnessed the power of our data processing capabilities at UK with the framework and experience gained from our work on the HEALing Communities Study, which has also shown that addressing this public health crisis requires working across disciplines,” said Talbert, who also directs the Institute for Biomedical Informatics.
“The HEALing Communities Study has been an exemplar of how a state and a university can work together and one of the deciding factors for receiving this award,” said HCS principal investigator Sharon Walsh, Ph.D., a professor in UK’s College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy and director for the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.
Walsh leads the project’s substance use disorder team, which will advise on the content of evidence-based practices and state and local partners who are end users of the system.
Katherine Marks, Ph.D., a UK College of Medicine research assistant professor who serves as project director for the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE) within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, is the project’s state government liaison.
Marks says RADOR-KY’s faster data processing, predictive analytics and inclusion of evidence-based practices will help the state take more strategic action.
“The opportunity for state and community partners to have readily available access to data so we can take action and evaluate how we’re doing in our response is a remarkable innovation,” said Marks. “This is a wonderful demonstration of the collaborative potential between the state and university expertise. It’s also yet another example of how UK is working as the University for Kentucky.”
An end-user advisory group, including partners in state government and local communities, will also guide the development of RADOR-KY. To advance the efforts to mitigate the opioid epidemic across the U.S. the team also plans to share programming code and algorithms in a public repository.