GIS technology allows us to provide location-based solutions to communities being affected by substance misuse and even set up prevention methods in communities that are at-risk.
Kansas Overdose Response Strategy Team Leverages GIS to Combat Substance Misuse Health Crisis
"The overdose heat maps provided by the ORS team supported Safe Streets Wichita's targeted approach for distributing naloxone," said Ngoc Vuong, a community mobilizer for Safe Streets Wichita. "The data also allowed us to reach out to Wichita Police Department [staff], who cultivated long-standing relationships with the lodging facilities, and partner with them to equip those facilities with naloxone."
Governments across the nation are all struggling with responding to the substance use disorders and overdose deaths that plague their communities. Although various agencies have increased access to naloxone (a medicine that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose) and provided more education around substance use disorders, drug-involved overdose deaths have steadily increased since 2019.
Another response was the launch of the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP), a web-based tool that displays drug misuse spikes and clusters within and across jurisdictions nationally. The Kansas Overdose Response Strategy (ORS) team values the information ODMAP provides to jurisdictions. Still, the Kansas ORS team, in partnership with the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and Wichita State University's Community Engagement Institute (CEI), saw value in taking ODMAP a step further with geographic information system (GIS) technology.
Seeing where overdoses are occurring and identifying hot spots is essential, as this allows organizations to allocate resources to the areas most in need. However, identifying these populations was the first step for the Kansas ORS team. By adopting ArcGIS Community Analyst, a web-based app that provides GIS mapping software capabilities in a simple and easy-to-use framework, the team was able to:
- Identify areas and facilities that were overdose hot spots.
- Highlight social determinants of health (SDOH) to make overdose prevention efforts more equitable.
- Prioritize elementary schools located in hot spots for mentorship programs to help build resiliency for at-risk youth.
Identified Hot Spots: Hotels, Apartments, and Gas Stations
Leveraging the ODMAP, the Kansas ORS team located places where the state was seeing a high number of drug overdoses. Since adopting ArcGIS Community Analyst, the Kansas ORS team has identified certain hotels, apartment complexes, and gas stations that were drug overdose hot spots.
Based on the location intelligence that GIS technology provided, the Kansas ORS team partnered with the Wichita Police Department and Safe Streets Wichita to distribute naloxone to the hotels where there were high rates of drug-induced overdoses. Safe Streets Wichita created door hangers and distributed them at the apartment complexes, informing tenants of overdose prevention tips as well as instructions on how to order naloxone. Currently, the organizations are working with gas stations to further increase access to and awareness of the life-saving medicine naloxone.
The Kansas ORS team members knew that this could only be one part of their response. They needed to expand their location-based solutions even further and investigate the role of SDOH as potential contributing factors that can lead communities to substance misuse.
The Social Determinants of Overdose Prevention
The Kansas ORS team can now build hot spot profiles off the data from ArcGIS Community Analyst. For example, the team can identify whether a hot spot area is predominantly Hispanic—information that enables partnering community organizations to tailor their outreach, resources, and education efforts accordingly. This allows the Kansas ORS team to reach out to and work with the most fitting community organizations based on the hot spot profile results.
Prioritization of Elementary Schools Near Hot Spot Areas
The Kansas ORS team also worked with the elementary schools located near the hot spot areas This effort served as a prevention method. Through their use of ArcGIS Community Analyst, the Kansas ORS team members identified at-risk students who were going through adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Also, the team worked with community organizations like Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters to increase access to mentorship and prevention resources. The team is also currently partnering with local police departments to ensure that law enforcement staff work with schools that may receive calls regarding minors. This activity provides the schools with insight to better help students who may need guidance.
"Data matters because our community matters," said Mary Shannon, CEO of Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters. "Only when we have a complete understanding of the state of our community do we know how to focus our work as an organization to truly reach underserved populations who need the power of our mission. Our leadership and board of directors are grateful for the eye-opening data the ORS put together, and it has helped inform how we will focus our strategies to help break cycles through our one-to-one mentorship, as well as put forward discussions on who our future partnerships are so we can work together as a village to combat the significant challenges our community is facing."
The Road Ahead: Leveraging GIS for Change
What makes the Kansas ORS team and its partners leading health organizations is the fact that they constantly take their work a step further. Mapping overdoses was not enough, so they worked to increase access to naloxone. Committed to addressing this health crisis, they then created profiles for at-risk youth and partnered with community organizations to ensure that these young people were not forgotten and received the extra mentorship they needed. In addition, the team has now partnered with the Kansas Prevention Collaborative to participate in Prevention Advocacy Day, an event that provides guidance on how to be effective when speaking with elected officials, while also educating people about upcoming prevention-related legislation.
"The infographics created by the ORS put sophisticated data in the hands of community members focused on substance misuse prevention, equipping them for more current and specific conversations with their elected officials about the needs in their communities," said Chad Childs, prevention initiatives manager with CEI, sponsoring partner of the Kansas Prevention Collaborative's event.
"GIS technology allows us to provide location-based solutions to communities being affected by substance misuse and even set up prevention methods in communities that are at-risk," said DJ Gering, Kansas overdose response strategy public health analyst.
GIS technology allows organizations like the Kansas ORS team and its partners to show elected officials where a health crisis is occurring as well as which communities are affected, and—most importantly—to identify the best resources when providing assistance.
This project is supported in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $11,600,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.