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Stanford University School of Medicine

At code-a-thon, participants asked to develop solutions to combat the opioid epidemic

This week programmers from across the country will convene in Washington, D.C., to take part in a code-a-thon hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their challenge: Do what they can in 24 hours to help the federal government better understand the nature of the opioid epidemic, and identify ways we might begin to ease it.

Teams will be given access to more than 20 state, federal and private-sector data sets on prescribing, educational outcomes, unemployment, mortgages, emergency response and more. But they’ll also have another powerful tool at their disposal: immediate access to real people who have been touched by the crisis of opioid misuse and abuse.

The participation of recovering addicts, caregivers, chronic pain patients, prescribing clinicians, first responders, payers and more is thanks to an effort led by Stanford anesthesiologist Larry Chu, MD, MS, executive director of Stanford Medicine X. Invited by Department of Health and Human Services CTO Bruce Greenstein, the Stanford team assembled and interviewed the stakeholders, and will mentor them as they share their perspectives throughout the course of the code-a-thon.

The conversation about opioids hasn’t always been inclusive, Chu says, and important reforms have failed to earn the buy-in of some patient populations and prescribing physicians. “New attempts to address the crisis will only be more effective — and more likely to be funded — if they’re built with respect for real human experience," he told me.

The Stanford Medicine X group is also leading a workshop in which participants will co-create the design criteria by which contestants’ work will be evaluated. As a member of the judging panel, Chu will help select the winning projects, each of which will be awarded $10,000.

The goal of the Medicine X team is as much to identify entry points to the problem, and to model an approach, Justin Lai, MPH, said, as it is to shape any specific outcomes.

“We don’t have to come up with Uber at the end of this,” Frank Lee, MD, a stakeholder mentor, said. “But I’d like to see some sign that says we’re thinking past just one entity coming up with a solution.”

“This really should be patients, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, government — everyone — coming together and saying, these are the things that are important to me and to our organization, and we think this could help curb the crisis.”

A symposium preceding the code-a-thon is being held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday and will include talks by Bruce Greenstein, the U.S. surgeon general, Stanford professor Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, and more. Register in advance to watch online. The code-a-thon closing ceremony will be livestreamed on the HHS Facebook page on Thursday from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. Eastern time.

Previously: Misconceptions about opioid use: A Medicine X discussionExperts weigh in on stopping the "biggest public health epidemic of a generation" and Drug Dealer, MD: A look at the opioid epidemic
Photo of Bruce Greenstein courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

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