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The Challenge


Across Canada, the use and misuse of opioids is having devastating effects on families and communities. Of the thousands of accidental deaths experienced in 2017, 72 per cent involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, an increase of 17 per cent from the previous year (PHAC, 2018).

In collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada (funder and principal partner) and Statistics Canada (supporting partner) MaRS is engaging Canadians to identify novel sources of data and analytical mechanisms to help the public health sector better understand the scope of opioid overdoses at the community level.

What are the data gaps?

Getting information on opioid use and related overdoses is difficult. Public health organizations predominately rely on emergency or medical services information, hospitalization records and coroner and medical examiner reports. However, many opioid overdoses do not result in death, nor do they always involve an emergency or medical response. That means crucial information remains uncaptured.

Additionally, valuable secondary information related to an overdose (where and when it happened) is often missing. Such granular data is critical to the design, delivery and targeting of better interventions aimed at reducing opioid-related harms.

How is the Opioid Data Challenge structured?

Phase 1 – Propose and Develop:

Participants will identify and propose data sources and methodologies to measure opioid overdoses occurring in a Canadian community of their choice. In addition to providing the total number of non-fatal and/or fatal overdoses, innovators will provide data on specific factors of an overdose (such as location and date).

Submissions will be evaluated by an external panel of expert judges. Up to five $10,000 awards will be given to each challenge finalist for use in the continued development of their concept during Phase 2.

Phase 2 – Extension:

Finalists will apply the data sources and/or methodology used in the previous phase to a different community in Canada to demonstrate wide-range applicability. A set of selection criteria will be provided to help guide innovators when choosing their second community.

Submissions will be evaluated by an external panel of expert judges. Up to two $50,000 awards will be available for each challenge winner. The winners will also have the opportunity to scale and integrate their concepts into existing public health surveillance systems.