Data analytics have been used by the government for years to help stop fraud and identity theft. Through the use of identity resolution, financial institutions such as banks and government agencies such as the FBI can link entities through data sets even if a name is misspelled or a part of the name is missing. By using these programs, these organizations can help to stop fraud before it can start.
Now, the U.S. government is utilizing data analytics to fight a more specific type of crime: the prescription of opioids.
The opioid epidemic
Opioids work as pain relievers, but because of their high addictivity rating they’re considered incredibly dangerous. Several states have been suing pharmaceutical companies for understating how addictive the drugs are to their patients.
Because of this reason, many doctors across the nation have been prescribing opioids to their patients over long periods of time even for the smallest of pains. These prescriptions have only increased the numbers of those falling victim to the opioid epidemic.
Fighting the epidemic with data analytics
On Wednesday, August 2, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions the formation of an Opioid Fraud Abuse Detection Unit. The unit will be a program dedicated to opioid-related health care fraud. Those working for the unit will utilize data analytics and related software such as identity resolution and name matching to locate physicians prescribing excess amounts of opioids to patients.
The unit will be able to find information such as the average age of those patients the physician is prescribing opioids to, how many of the patients have died within a two month period, and the names of pharmacies prescribing opioids that far outnumber others.
Data analytics has a vast number of software available to business and organizations including text mining software, sentiment analysis software, and entity extraction software. Text analytics are often used to strengthen border security. However, it will predominantly be identity resolution software and name matching software that will be used to locate these fraudulent physicians.
Some are critical of Sessions’ approach including both conservatives and liberals, pointing to the fact that this method of action has already been tried. “The opioid crisis will be addressed by drug treatment and other intervention programs,” said President of the Coalition for Public Safety Steve Hawkins. “A return to the war on drugs is not going to be the answer.”
However, even if the Opioid Fraud Abuse Detection Unit fails to make a dent to ending the opioid epidemic, the data it collects regarding the patients prescribed opioids, how soon they died after being given their prescriptions, and which pharmacies are prescribing these opioids in mass quantities may still be useful for investigation regarding the opioid epidemic at a later date.