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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: JAMIA Open.

Volume 3, Issue 1, 2020, Pages 77-86.

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Copyright © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Medical Informatics Association.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact


Introduction: The opioid epidemic is a modern public health emergency. Common interventions to alleviate the opioid epidemic aim to discourage excessive prescription of opioids. However, these methods often take place over large municipal areas (state-level) and may fail to address the diversity that exists within each opioid case (individual-level). An intervention to combat the opioid epidemic that takes place at the individual-level would be preferable.

Methods: This research leverages computational tools and methods to characterize the opioid epidemic at the individual-level using the electronic health record data from a large, academic medical center. To better understand the characteristics of patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) we leveraged a self-controlled analysis to compare the healthcare encounters before and after an individual's first overdose event recorded within the data. We further contrast these patients with matched, non-OUD controls to demonstrate the unique qualities of the OUD cohort.

Results: Our research confirms that the rate of opioid overdoses in our hospital significantly increased between 2006 and 2015 (P < 0.001), at an average rate of 9% per year. We further found that the period just prior to the first overdose is marked by conditions of pain or malignancy, which may suggest that overdose stems from pharmaceutical opioids prescribed for these conditions.

Conclusions: Informatics-based methodologies, like those presented here, may play a role in better understanding those individuals who suffer from opioid dependency and overdose, and may lead to future research and interventions that could successfully prevent morbidity and mortality associated with this epidemic.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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