Hackathon Gives PA Coders An Opportunity To Help Fight The Opioid Crisis

Oct 2, 2018

The state of Pennsylvania is asking coders and designers to look at its data on the opioid crisis as part of a month-long hackathon to find new strategies to fight the epidemic.

A possible idea that’s percolating with one team from Carnegie Mellon University is a bracelet designed to help people overcome addiction through community support. One feature might include an alert to the wearer’s social network when the individual hits certain milestones, like 60 days of sobriety.

“It’s kind of like your AA token or AA coin,” said Weichen Chang, a first-year graduate student at CMU. “Then with an app, with the community in place, you can share with the community saying, ‘Hey this is ... a proud moment.’”

This is the second annual Code4PA competition. Last year, there was a broader focus on improving efficiency in state government; the winning idea was a website that advised users of unsafe driving conditions based on historical crash data, inclement weather and other information.

For the 2018 hackathon, teams of two to eight people are encouraged to focus on one of three tracks dealing with the opioid epidemic: preventing opioid use disorder, saving lives and ensuring access to treatment.  

In addition to CMU, participants are based at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s Harrisburg and Philadelphia campuses, as well as at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. In total some 260 Pennsylvanians are taking part.

“It brought a diverse group of people together … not just students,” said Mike Mallon, the project coordinator for opioid initiatives at Pitt’s public health school. “We got a really good contingent from the community … a lot of coders and people that are civic minded.”

Jere Matthews, the open data officer for Pennsylvania, said that sharing state-collected data with the public will help policymakers identify gaps and gain new anaylsis. 

“The biggest, craziest idea that somebody has could be the idea will help us give the most value to save these lives,” she said.

The winning concept may be selected for development by the state. Judging takes place on Saturday, Oct. 20.

This story was updated at 1:40pm on October 2, 2018 to attribute a quote to Weichen Chang. An earlier version misidentified the speaker.