Opioid treatment deserts

The latest outcome from our opioid overdose mapping project: we find disparities across neighborhoods and racial groups in access to opioid treatment providers:

Hyder A, Lee J, Dundon A, Southerland LT, All D, Hammond G, and Miller, H.J. (2021) Opioid Treatment Deserts: Concept development and application in a US Midwestern urban county. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250324. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0250324


Objectives.  An Opioid Treatment Desert is an area with limited accessibility to medication-assisted treatment and recovery facilities for Opioid Use Disorder. We explored the concept of Opioid Treatment Deserts including racial differences in potential spatial accessibility and applied it to one Midwestern urban county using high resolution spatiotemporal data.

We obtained individual-level data from one Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agency (Columbus Fire Department) in Franklin County, Ohio. Opioid overdose events were based on EMS runs where naloxone was administered from 1/1/2013 to 12/31/2017. Potential spatial accessibility was measured as the time (in minutes) it would take an individual, who may decide to seek treatment after an opioid overdose, to travel from where they had the overdose event, which was a proxy measure of their residential location, to the nearest opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment provider that provided medically-assisted treatment (MAT). We estimated accessibility measures overall, by race and by four types of treatment providers (any type of MAT for OUD, Buprenorphine, Methadone, or Naltrexone). Areas were classified as an Opioid Treatment Desert if the estimate travel time to treatment provider (any type of MAT for OUD) was greater than a given threshold. We performed sensitivity analysis using a range of threshold values based on multiple modes of transportation (car and public transit) and using only EMS runs to home/residential location types.

Results. A total of 6,929 geocoded opioid overdose events based on data from EMS agencies were used in the final analysis. Most events occurred among 26–35 years old (34%), identified as White adults (56%) and male (62%). Median travel times and interquartile range (IQR) to closest treatment provider by car and public transit was 2 minutes (IQR: 3 minutes) and 17 minutes (IQR: 17 minutes), respectively. Several neighborhoods in the study area had limited accessibility to OUD treatment facilities and were classified as Opioid Treatment Deserts. Travel time by public transit for most treatment provider types and by car for Methadone-based treatment was significantly different between individuals who were identified as Black adults and White adults based on their race.

Conclusions.  Disparities in access to opioid treatment exist at the sub-county level in specific neighborhoods and across racial groups in Columbus, Ohio and can be quantified and visualized using local public safety data (e.g., EMS runs). Identification of Opioid Treatment Deserts can aid multiple stakeholders better plan and allocate resources for more equitable access to MAT for OUD and, therefore, reduce the burden of the opioid epidemic while making better use of real-time public safety data to address a public health epidemic that has turned into a public safety crisis.

The impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on public transit demand in the United States

New paper: Liu L, Miller HJ, Scheff J (2020) The impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on public transit demand in the United States. PLOS ONE 15(11):e0242476. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0242476


The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions led to major transit demand decline for many public transit systems in the United States. This paper is a systematic analysis of the dynamics and dimensions of this unprecedented decline. Using transit demand data derived from a widely used transit navigation app, we fit logistic functions to model the decline in daily demand and derive key parameters: base value, the apparent minimal level of demand and cliff and base points, representing the initial date when transit demand decline began and the final date when the decline rate attenuated. Regression analyses reveal that communities with higher proportions of essential workers, vulnerable populations (African American, Hispanic, Female, and people over 45 years old), and more coronavirus Google searches tend to maintain higher levels of minimal demand during COVID-19. Approximately half of the agencies experienced their decline before the local spread of COVID-19 likely began; most of these are in the US Midwest. Almost no transit systems finished their decline periods before local community spread. We also compare hourly demand profiles for each system before and during COVID-19 using ordinary Procrustes distance analysis. The results show substantial departures from typical weekday hourly demand profiles. Our results provide insights into public transit as an essential service during a pandemic.


NASEM Mapping Science Committee webinar: Geospatial Needs for a Pandemic-Resilient World. 

Epidemics and pandemics such as the COVID-19 outbreak have clear geographic dimensions due to the vector spreading the virus (human contact), demographics and co-morbidity factors that vary geographically, the distributed and heterogeneous nature of health care systems, and the highly variable response and interventions from political authorities and the public-at-large. The decline and shifts in human activity also affect broader social, economic and environmental systems to varying degrees. Geospatial information can play vital roles in crafting effective government and societal responses at the operational, tactical and strategic levels.

On 17 June 2020, the Mapping Science Committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine will host an online workshop on Geospatial Needs for a Pandemic-Resilient World.  This workshop will explore the needs of federal agencies, organizations, and scientists for geospatial data science to understand and respond to epidemics/pandemics and developing infrastructure and policies that facilitate effective management and graceful recovery from these types of shocks.  This workshop is free and open to the public.