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Turning Data into a Human Story was Result of Arizona TA Request

In many cases, looking at healthcare in terms of data, while informative, can also feel dehumanizing. A recent project in Arizona approached the Opioid Response Network for technical assistance and showed the lives behind the data.

Guild Health Consulting was hired by Gila County, population 54,000, to obtain data on the number of people who had died of an overdose, had overdosed, or had been revived by naloxone (Narcan) over several years. The county hoped to use this data to create policies to address the opioid epidemic with the goal of preventing deaths.

Guild Health asked the ORN for assistance in developing a plan to collect the most useful data. “Without ORN, we wouldn’t have been able to scale as fast and our methodology wouldn’t have been as strong,” said Jason Gillette, executive director of Guild Health. Shelly Mann-Lev, an ORN public health consultant, assisted Guild Health in their request.

Guild Health did far more than simply record death statistics to determine how a person ended up dying from an overdose. They went back several years and identified the touchpoints—hospital visits, contact with the law, treatment clinics, social workers, etc.—of those who died from an overdose. How many times were they arrested? How many times did they go to the hospital, visit a physician, and/or seek treatment? Did their touchpoints increase when school started, when it stopped, when they were laid off? Was there a pattern that was fairly consistent throughout the data collection?

What they learned was that individuals tended to have more touchpoints with healthcare and law enforcement at the same time each year. These increased touchpoints often related to some traumatic past event in that person’s life. In one example, as illustrated by the graph below, it was clear something was triggering a woman each April, escalating in 2013. Her touchpoints increased consistently yearly until she disappeared from the system. And then the next touchpoint was death by overdose.

Image of Incident Map Graph from 2010-2017

“That’s how we tell their story with the data,” Gillette said. “These people come to life through the data The data is humanizing these people.”

With the data collected and compiled for each case studied, the resulting report is shared with a variety of stakeholders in Gila county, including law enforcement, attorneys, physicians, social workers—anyone who might come into contact with a similar patient. Ultimately, the county hopes to take the data and use it to save lives. Everyone brings their own point of view and interests, Gillette said. He quoted one police officer as saying, “I thought all these people were druggies. I didn’t see them as real people.”

Guild Health continues to meet with ORN on a monthly basis. They are building a model that can be replicated by other counties and states across the country to give a clearer picture of how people end up dying. In most cases, those who died of overdose received little treatment or far less than is recommended by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, noted Gillette.

“We have been given insight about what is working and what is not,” Gillette said of ORN. “I wanted to thank (ORN) for all of the work and guidance.”

If you would like more information about this model, please contact