Finalists in the MaRS Health Opioid Challenge

Apr 9, 2019

In the face of Canada’s growing opioid crisis, MaRS has launched an Opioid Data Challenge , in collaboration with Health Canada, with the goal to obtain and test new data sets, sources and methodologies to better understand opioid overdoses and harm in Canada. The overall goal of the Data Challenge is to use the obtained data in order to design and deliver effective interventions.

MaRS is a non-profit innovation hub committed to driving economic and social prosperity by harnessing the full potential of innovation. The challenge is aimed to facilitate the collection of information related to opioid use and related overdose, which is difficult since public health organizations rely mainly on emergency or medical services information, including hospitalization records and medical examiner or coroner reports for opioid-related data collection. This poses significant barriers to obtaining consistent data, and creates an opioid-related “data gap.”

During Phase 1 of the challenge, participants of the challenge were invited to identify and propose data sources and methodologies in order to evaluate opioid overdoses occurring in a Canadian community of their choice. The participants were required to provide the total number of non-fatal and/or fatal overdoses, as well as providing data on specific factors involved in the overdose (such as location and date). The judging panel for the Opioid Data Challenge is comprised of representatives from organizations including Statistics Canada, Canada’s Open Data Exchange, Vancouver Coastal Health, Health Canada and Canadian Institute for Health Innovation.

Winners of Phase 1 include Alberta Health Services, Brave Technology Coop, New Leaf Outreach Society, Team Surrey (including Fraser Health, Surrey Fire Services, and the Survey RCMP), as well as Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. Each of the winners received an award of $10,000 to use in the continued development of their concept during Phase 2. In Phase 2, finalists will be required to apply their data sources and/or methodology to a different community in Canada to show wide-range applicability. Up to two $50,000 awards will be available for each challenge winner.

Canada’s national opioid crisis is considered to be a public health emergency by the Canadian government. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, There were more than 9,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018. Moreover, there were approximately 4,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2017, of which over 90% were accidental or unintentional. Approximately 72% of the opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, resulting in an increase of 17% from the previous year.