Technical Safety BC helps analyze drug addiction data

Earlier this year, Technical Safety BC data scientists worked on a project with Data for Good Vancouver focused around drug addiction and overdose.

Three of our data scientists worked with the Data for Good team to analyze a year’s worth of data from the Overdose Prevention Society, and come up with possible scenarios to drive prevention. 

Some of the key issues explored included:

  • Using medical diagnosis data and reasons for taking certain substances to identify common patterns. These findings give insight into whether or not a certain group of patients may be more likely to consider marijuana as an alternatives.
  • Forecasting total visits and severe overdose per given day and week. This can be used to improve resource allocation at safe injection sites.
  • Understanding the association among patient characteristics. For example, an individual with HIV has different challenges than a person with mental health issues, which impacts the type of prevention tools that are appropriate. This information can help drive funding considerations.

While analyzing drug overdose data may not seem to be a natural fit for an organization focused on the safety of technical equipment, the exercise played an important role boosting emotional intelligence and helped the participants put a human face on data sets. One statistic that stood out was that 44% of participants reported using drugs to alleviate psychological and physical pain.

“Each data point describes emotional and challenging aspects that these individuals face,” explained Soyean Kim, Leader, Research and Analytics. “We understand that each row isn’t just a data point but an accumulation of an actual person’s pain and suffering. That is something we will take back into our daily work at Technical Safety BC. As a team which works closely with data, understanding data beyond numbers is important to ensure we use the data in ethical ways”.

Findings and recommendations from the analysis were compiled into a report which was recently released. The report is being used to call for more funding devoted to low-barrier harm reduction activities. 

A big thank you to Technical Safety BC’s Soyean Kim, Zack Zhu and Doris Li and to everyone else involved in this important community project.

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