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Preventive Medicine Reports


Due to the opioid overdose epidemic, Massachusetts created a Public Health Data Warehouse, encompassing individually-linked administrative data on most of the population as provided by more than 20 systems. As others seek to assemble and mine big data on opioid use, there is a need to consider its research utility. To identify perceived strengths and limitations of administrative big data, we collected qualitative data in 2019 from 39 stakeholders with knowledge of the Massachusetts Public Health Data Warehouse. Perceived strengths included the ability to: (1) detect new and clinically significant relationships; (2) observe treatments and services across institutional boundaries, broadening understanding of risk and protective factors, treatment outcomes, and intervention effectiveness; (3) use geographic-specific lenses for community-level health; (4) conduct rigorous “real-world” research; and (5) generate impactful findings that legitimize the scope and impacts of the opioid epidemic and answer urgent questions. Limitations included: (1) oversimplified information and imprecise measures; (2) data access and analysis challenges; (3) static records and substantial lag times; and (4) blind spots that bias or confound results, mask upstream or root causes, and contribute to incomplete understanding. Using administrative big data to conduct research on the opioid epidemic offers advantages but also has limitations which, if unrecognized, may undermine its utility. Findings can help researchers to capitalize on the advantages of big data, and avoid inappropriate uses, and aid states that are assembling big data to guide public health practice and policy.





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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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