Shiya John, Gavin Rozzi and Jim Samuel for New Jersey State Policy Lab
New Jersey has a persistent substance addiction problem which must be viewed in the context of laws, policies, and initiatives implemented to address it. The most recent numbers from New Jersey’s Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner show that despite many rigorous efforts during the previous decade, the drug addiction problem remains an evasive challenge. New Jersey has documented 65 drug-related deaths in just the second week of April 2022. This number aligns with weekly averages based on a year-to-date total of 854 deaths as of April 17th, 2022. (NOTE: All counts of drug-related deaths are listed as ‘suspected.’) A quick exploration indicates that 71 percent of deaths in the second week of April were males, which matches the year-to-date rate (72 percent for males). Similarly, drug deaths among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics accounted for roughly 57 percent, 25 percent, and 17 percent of overall deaths in the second week of April-2022, corresponding to year-to-date rates of about 57 percent, 27 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. If current trends continue, New Jersey will have over 3,300 drug deaths by the end of 2022, resulting tragically in 6% more deaths than in 2021 (n=3,121 deaths).
The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General suggests several “major initiatives” including “using data to solve problems and educate the public.” Additionally, several sincere, well-intentioned and high-quality initiatives by the State Department of Health, NJCares.gov, other state agencies, not-for-profits, and university-led academic research have contributed positively. Governor Phil Murphy recently stated that while “we are making incredible strides in our fight against the opioid epidemic, we must continue to expand access to harm reduction interventions.” This crisis must be viewed as a dynamic and evolving problem. The opioid crisis has no one-size-fits-all solution. Informatics applications could automate the review of all relevant data and generate real-time insights to reduce overdose deaths and substance usage in New Jersey.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) appears to be the missing piece in New Jersey’s arsenal in its fight against the drug-abuse crisis. AI is defined as being a “set of technologies that mimic the functions and expressions of human intelligence, specifically cognition and logic.” Recent research positing AI interventions for opioid abuse noted “70 unique citations and 29 unique interventions,” divided into “smartphone applications, healthcare data-related interventions, biosensor-related interventions and digital and virtual-related interventions.” Though fractional, this list highlights the broad range of creative solutions that AI and big-data driven informatics can provide. Perhaps AI technologies can help reverse the increasing number of drug-related deaths in NJ as observed from 2019 to 2022.
Shouldn’t state and local governments consider going beyond AI for surveillance and adopt AI to save lives? If AIs can defeat the finest human chess grandmasters and trade stocks faster than an expert human trader, then it is worthwhile to invest in AIs to fight the drug-related death crisis in NJ. AI can adaptively automate the “improvement of relative performance under challenging information conditions… ” and be used for “… improving relative performance in spite of information quality issues …” amid complex decision-making environments. Mitigating New Jersey’s ongoing substance abuse and drug addiction crisis will require additional research on smart, real-time, self-learning and adaptive solutions based on AI-driven cognitive adaptivity.