How to prevent opioid addiction before it begins

April 16, 2018 by Rheagan Rizio, University of Southern California
USC researchers are using artificial intelligence and predictive technology to identify patterns in medical history that could point to a future problem with addiction. Credit: Kate Parisian

USC Viterbi School of Engineering researchers are working to combat opioid addiction before it can begin.

Yan Liu, associate professor in computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, is one of the leaders in the field. She heads the USC Machine Learning Center. The interdisciplinary center—with representatives from USC Viterbi, the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences—enlists researchers to harness the potential of machine learning.

In one of the Machine Learning Center's 2017 studies, computer mapping was used to study addiction and adverse effect analysis. In simpler terms, the researchers used computer-learning models—similar to those in self-driving cars or those in the iPhone X's new facial recognition software—and programmed them to sift through a patient's medical history, identifying trends that may indicate opioid dependency and addiction. In essence, they're learning how to predict opioid dependency.

Identifying these patterns is key. One of Liu's goals with her research is to successfully predict, based on medical history, whether a patient is susceptible to developing an addiction to opioid-based pain medication before physicians ever prescribe it. If key warning variables can be identified, physicians can then take steps to combat the addiction before it can begin, prescribing the patient alternative forms of pain medication to avoid their exposure altogether.

"We conducted this research because of its importance and urgency," said Liu, holder of the Philip and Cayley MacDonald Endowed Early Career Chair, who joined USC Viterbi's faculty in 2010.

Opioid addiction and a person's prescription history

The study itself achieved its goal, according to Liu: It demonstrated that deep-learning models have the potential to be useful tools when fighting opioid addiction. Models used in the study looked at each patient's medical history, focusing on several key factors. These included the patient's prescription history, and whether they had been diagnosed with any other relevant disorders that could indicate an increased risk of developing an to opioid pain medication: alternative substance abuse, recreational drugs, alcohol or anxiety disorders.

Based on these traits, the models classified all relevant patients—those who had previously been prescribed opioid medication—into three groups: short-term users, long-term users (and opioid-dependent users. The research was done in collaboration with the Mayo Health Clinic, using electronic health records provided by the Rochester Epidemiology Project.

Researchers used a sample size of 102,166 patients, one of the biggest datasets ever used for such research, according to Liu, to achieve the most accurate data. The results: 79 percent were short-term users and 21 percent were long-term users. According to the algorithm, 3.47 percent were also opioid-dependent—a significant increase from the 0.7 percent that had been diagnosed with before the study.

Basing its research on data taken from medical records, Liu's team aimed to protect the privacy of their subjects.

"Privacy is our top concern when we conduct human subject research," Liu said. "We only used the data of patients who agreed to share their medical records [for the study], and we followed the strict data-use agreement—we did not utilize or disclose any direct identifiers of the individual."

Explore further: Researchers use health data to predict who will use opioids after hospitalization

Related Stories

Researchers use health data to predict who will use opioids after hospitalization

March 5, 2018
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are working to develop statistical models to better predict which patients will be prescribed opioid medications long-term following discharge from a hospital ...

FDA warns on mixing opioid addiction treatments, other meds

September 20, 2017
The Food and Drug Administration has issued new warnings about the dangers of combining medication for opioid addiction with antidepressants and other drugs that also slow breathing and brain activity.

Long-term opioid use has dropped among US military veterans

January 30, 2018
A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, published by Springer, shows that opioid prescribing has dropped after a peak in 2012. Lead author Katherine Hadlandsmyth of the Iowa City VA Healthcare System and ...

Plastic surgeons get tips on managing opioid addiction risk

October 2, 2017
Opioid medications prescribed for pain management after plastic surgery may contribute to the ongoing opioid epidemic, according to a special topic paper in the October issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official ...

Bulk of opioid use in the U.S. concentrated among 10 percent of patients

September 11, 2017
A small proportion (10 percent) of opioid users account for the vast majority of opioid use in the United States. These findings suggest that efforts to reduce prescription opioid abuse should focus on the top users, rather ...

Significant pain increases the risk of opioid addiction by 41 percent

July 22, 2016
What do we really know about the relationship between the experience of pain and risk of developing opioid use disorder? Results from a recent study - the first to directly address this question—show that people with moderate ...

Recommended for you

Probiotic use may reduce antibiotic prescriptions, researchers say

September 14, 2018
Use of probiotics is linked to reduced need for antibiotic treatment in infants and children, according to a review of studies that probed the benefits of probiotics, say researchers in the U.S., England and the Netherlands.

Recalled blood pressure drugs not linked to increased short term cancer risk

September 12, 2018
Products containing the withdrawn blood pressure drug valsartan are not associated with a markedly increased short term risk of cancer, finds an expedited analysis published by The BMJ today.

Sugar pills relieve pain for chronic pain patients

September 12, 2018
Someday doctors may prescribe sugar pills for certain chronic pain patients based on their brain anatomy and psychology. And the pills will reduce their pain as effectively as any powerful drug on the market, according to ...

A new approach for finding Alzheimer's treatments

September 11, 2018
Considering what little progress has been made finding drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease, Maikel Rheinstädter decided to come at the problem from a totally different angle—perhaps the solution lay not with the peptide ...

One in four older adults prescribed a benzodiazepine goes on to risky long-term use

September 10, 2018
They may start as well-intentioned efforts to calm anxiety, improve sleep or ease depression. But prescriptions for sedatives known as benzodiazepines may lead to long-term use among one in four older adults who receive them, ...

Clinical need absent, unclear in nearly 30 percent of outpatient opioid prescriptions

September 10, 2018
Nearly 30 percent of outpatient opioid prescriptions in the United States lack documented clinical reasons that justify the use of these potent drugs, according to a national analysis of physician visit records conducted ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.