Applied risk mapping and spatial analysis of address-level decedent data to inform opioid overdose interventions: The Massachusetts HEALing Communities Study

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2023 Oct 1:251:110947. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2023.110947. Epub 2023 Aug 23.


Background: Death certificate data provide powerful and sobering records of the opioid overdose crisis. In Massachusetts, where address-level decedent data are publicly available upon request, mapping and spatial analysis of fatal overdoses can provide valuable insights to inform prevention interventions. We describe how we used this approach to support a community-level intervention to reduce opioid-involved overdose mortality.

Methods: We developed a method to clean and geocode decedent data that substituted injury locations (the likely location of fatal overdoses) for deaths recorded in hospitals. After geomasking for greater privacy protection, we created maps to visualize the spatial distribution of decedent residence addresses, alone and juxtaposed with drive and walk-time distances to opioid treatment programs (OTPs), and place of death by overdose address. We used spatial statistical analyses to identify locations with significant clusters of overdoses.

Results: In the 8 intervention communities, 785 individuals died from opioid-involved overdoses between 2017 and 2020. We found that 19.7% of fatal overdoses were recorded in hospitals, 50.2% occurred at the decedent's residence, and 30.1% at another location. We identified overdose hotspots in study communities. By juxtaposing decedent residence data with drive- and walk-time analyses, we highlighted actionable spatial gaps in access to OTP treatment.

Conclusion: To better understand local fatal opioid overdose risk environments and inform the development of community-level prevention interventions, we used publicly available address-level decedent data to conduct nuanced spatial analyses. Our approach can be replicated in other jurisdictions to inform overdose prevention responses.

Keywords: Massachusetts; Opioids; Overdose; Spatial analysis; Vital statistics.