Southwest Virginia has a new tool in its belt to fight the opioid crisis.
The region will be the second in the state to adopt software to share data about the opioid and addiction epidemic, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday in Roanoke County.
“When we talk about challenges like this, especially the addiction challenge, it takes a village,” the governor said.
Virginia used federal funds to develop the data-sharing program, which rolled out after a pilot in the Shenandoah Valley in late 2018. The platform combines data from local agencies, such as police departments, courts and hospitals, into one clearinghouse. Localities can use that data to identify trends in drug uses and overdoses.
The Roanoke area was chosen in part because of the 2018 formation of the Roanoke Valley Collective Response, a coalition of 120 groups aimed at addressing the crisis, according to Carlos Rivero, chief data officer in the governor’s office. That coalition will be able to access the information.
“It’s not like we can just come in and say we’re from the government, we’re here to help, and make it happen,” Rivero said. “There’s got to be already some kind of organizational maturity within the community to be able to leverage the platform and the intelligence that it provides.”
Types of data available are vast. Rivero gave the example of information obtained in pretrial services on when a person first uses a particular type of drug and when they were first arrested. That time frame can help organizations gauge how quickly certain drugs are leading people to be stopped for crimes.
The Roanoke Valley Collective Response considers its coverage area to include 26 counties and 11 cities, from Highland County to Grayson and Halifax counties.
Expansion of the data platform into the Roanoke area will cost $1.6 million, which comes from part of a $8.7 million federal grant to the state. Qlarion Inc., a Reston-based data firm, will work closely with Collective Response to incorporate data submitted by its members into the system.
“We live in a world of data right now,” Northam said. “We recognize, I think, different ways that we can attack this challenge, but having this data is just so important, so that we can kind of have a baseline and know where we need more work and where we’re making progress.”
In his announcement, Northam also gave a shout-out to a local author and former Roanoke Times reporter whose work, he said, brought his attention to the crisis.
“Beth Macy wrote a very powerful book,” Northam said. “If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend you read ‘Dopesick.’ ”
Lauren Cummings, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Council, said the council used the data tool to track fatal and nonfatal overdoses.
“The data-sharing platform has been key in identifying emerging drug trends,” including methamphetamine and cocaine, she said. “As the data has demonstrated, we are faced with not only a heroin and opioid epidemic, but rather an addiction epidemic.”
Nancy Hans, co-chair of the Collective Response, said both existing and new data will be collected, as determined by the coalition.
The governor’s office said the platform for the Roanoke region is set to be fully operational by fall 2020.