Opioid abuse began rising in the late 1990s and was declared a public health emergency in 2017. For years, HealthPartners Institute research teams have been looking for ways to fight this growing epidemic.

Our work has become even more important as opioid overdoses made a drastic increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Minnesota Department of Health showed a 55% increase in opioid overdose deaths during the first six months of 2020, compared to the same time in 2019.

“We’re seeing the effects of the COVID pandemic crashing into the opioid epidemic,” said Rebecca Rossom, MD, senior investigator at HealthPartners Institute. “The rise in overdoses is driven by synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl.”

But these deaths are preventable, Dr. Rossom said. And she and her team at the Institute are launching a new tool called “Opioid Wizard” to help proactively identify those at risk of opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose.

How the Opioid Wizard works its magic

The Opioid Wizard builds on our existing Priorities Wizard Clinical Decision Support platform, which helps clinicians easily identify patients’ biggest opportunities for improving their health and well-being.

The platform uses complex algorithms that take health and prescription histories in the electronic health record (EHR) into account and flag patients who are at risk of OUD or overdose. By proactively identifying patients with certain risk factors, like previous opioid prescriptions, clinicians can deliver the best care during a medical appointment.

If a person has significant risk, the Opioid Wizard will prompt clinicians to screen their patient for OUD. It also has OUD treatment options, including appropriate medications. In some cases, the clinician is even encouraged to order a naloxone rescue kit. Naloxone is a medicine used to treat an opioid overdose.

Using data to provide hope and improve lives

The “Wizard” technology has been tested in other areas, like cardiology, and has already delivered successful outcomes for patients.

For example, the Cardiovascular Wizard helped identify patients who could benefit from certain cardiovascular therapies by flagging risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking status and body mass index. Data shows this tool helped lower the 10-year risk of heart disease by 2%.

Now, we’re hoping the same technology can help us make an impact on the opioid crisis with early OUD and overdose intervention.

Over the span of two years, Dr. Rossom and her team will study results from 30 participating clinics to see if the tool has any impact on clinical care and outcomes. They’ll evaluate changes in OUD diagnoses, rescue kit orders, OUD medication prescriptions, emergency department visits, hospitalizations and other outcomes. The research will be done in collaboration with Essentia Health and Geisinger health systems.

“If we can start patients with OUD on medications, all-cause mortality decreases by 50%,” Dr. Rossom said. “There are few interventions in health care that improve mortality outcomes as dramatically. Opioid Wizard will hopefully improve treatment access for patients with OUD.”

Check out more of HealthPartners Institute’s work