Columbia Creates New Center to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Data Science Institute (DSI) researchers will be an integral part of a new center that unites experts from across Columbia University to combat the opioid crisis.

The Center for Healing of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders-Enhancing Intervention, Development, and Implementation (CHOSEN) will draw upon the expertise of faculty, researchers, and practitioners at Columbia to develop ways to treat opioid addiction in New York State.

“The misuse of and addiction to opioids and other substances is a public health emergency,” said Nabila El-Bassel, University Professor, Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work, and a director of the new center. “The time has come to bring together the power of Columbia’s experts to create a university-wide approach to treating and healing addiction.”

Two DSI researchers are using statistical and data science techniques to understand the breadth and scope of New York’s opioid crisis. Smaranda Muresan, a research scientist at DSI and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, collects and studies data from social media channels where opioid users discuss addiction, treatments, and related issues. She uses Natural Language Processing to find patterns in the data and make predictions that will help understand why and how people use opioids and what can be done to help them.

Vincent Dorie, an associate research scientist at DSI, uses statistical models to estimate the effectiveness of opioid treatments. Eventually, he and other researchers will have granular data on where users receive treatment, whether at clinics, hospitals, or prisons. That data will help him and collaborators understand which treatments are most effective, he said.

“We’ll also have information on the services those institutions provide, e.g., naloxone, counseling job programs, etc.,” Dorie added. “Our goal will be to attempt to identify which kinds of treatments would yield the greatest impact at an individual level. And at a higher level we will be able to see which services, in conjunction, lead to the fewest overdoses.”

In 2017, more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids were involved in 47,600 of the overdose deaths and an estimated 2.5 million people have opioid-use disorder.

To help mitigate the epidemic, the new center will draw upon Columbia’s myriad strengths, with participation from Columbia’s School of Social Work, the New York State Psychiatric Institute’s Division on Substance Use Disorders, the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University Irving Medical CenterColumbia Business School, and Columbia Engineering.

“It is just this sort of interdisciplinary approach, bringing in expertise from across Columbia’s campuses, that is needed to address such a major challenge,” said Ira Katznelson, Columbia’s interim provost. “It also provides tangible proof of the University’s commitment to the application of academic rigor to advance our efforts to tackle a significant societal problem.”

— Robert Florida, Data Science Institute

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