Common enemy: The opioid epidemic has tech, community and entrepreneurial foes banding together

Tri-State startup Cordata helps coordinate effort
Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-17 07:08:47-05

CINCINNATI -- Each person on stage represents a path toward solving the sprawling opioid epidemic.

  • Public safety officials such as Thomas Synan Jr., chief of police, village of Newtown, Ohio; government employees Leigh Tami, chief performance officer at the city of Cincinnati Office of Performance & Data Analytics; and Christa Hyson, M.P.H. clerk on the Board of Health at the Cincinnati Health Department, talk about building healthy communities.
  • Kelly Firesheets, senior program officer of Preventing Opioid Misuse and Safety Net at Interact for Health, updates the crowd with the latest programs from health care providers.
  • Creative professional Mary Zalla, global president of consumer brands and managing director of the Cincinnati and Chicago offices at Landor; and Tracy Brumfield, a 2017 Haile Fellow and founder of /RISE/ newspaper, share their unique design and media projects.

Their diverse itineraries were presented during the Brandemonium International Brand Conference & Festival at Duke Energy in October. They included Landor's Inject Hope, a design project intended to change people's perception of the opioid epidemic. Brumfield, Firesheets, Hyson and Tami cross paths from one event to another.

Soon after, Not Even Once, Hyson's anti-drug abuse program educating youth in Cincinnati Public Schools about the risks and dangers associated with the opioid epidemic, held a community discussion about the opioid epidemic at the People's Liberty offices in Over-the-Rhine.

Add the all-day IX Health conference for entrepreneurs and med tech startups at Union Hall and the launch event for the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, and you'll experience a full range of opioid tech-focused events -- and that's just in one month.

Gary M. Winzenread is the chief executive officer and president of Cordata Healthcare Innovations.

Cordata takes the lead

Standing in the center of all of this parallel play between startups and big corporations and governmental agencies and health care providers is Gary M. Winzenread, chief executive officer and president of Cordata Healthcare Innovations, a Cincinnati-based health-tech startup that specializes in software applications for effective patient management around various treatments, including spine and oncology.

Winzenread and his Cordata teams are supplying multiple quick response teams (QRTs) with software applications, including a mobile app to provide essential data to first responders. So far, the collaborations with governmental agencies -- including Colerain Township and its Public Safety Director, Daniel P. Meloy; and Interact for Health, a catalyst for improved health and wellness via grants, education and public policy for the people of the Cincinnati region -- have been positive and powerful.

"I think every interaction that's person-to-person is ideal," Winzenread said. "The emails and pings, well, those things can happen automatically. It's important to increase the social touches with professionals and remind them that they are part of a caring community that sees them as people."

A mobile app used by first responders is just one part of the SaaS (software as a service) applications being designed, built and implemented by Cordata.

Cordata creates a record that provides first responders with context and information about the OD victims they are aiding. Then, the data helps the QRT teams reach out to these survivors and match OD victims with nearby care and treatment. Finally, Cordata documents and provides analysis of this information regarding service trends and efficacy to the communities they serve.

True to its collaborative mission, Cordata also makes sure the data is available to all players in health care, public safety, governmental agencies, health tech companies and med tech startups.

"The application is built on a framework that relates caregivers, tests, procedures, appointments, locations, care team members, pathways, outcomes, patients and the like to enable positive support for a patient going through a long-term, complex treatment," Winzenread said. "As we became involved in supporting early responders and treatment facilities in this space, all we did was configure these pathways, procedures and the like to focus on treatment for opiate addiction."

Ohio delivers a call to action

Unfolding in tandem with Cordata is the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, a multimillion-dollar prize competition from the Ohio Development Services Agency and the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, which intends to source new technology-based solutions for addressing the opioid crisis from a diverse community of innovators. The focus for the Opioid Technology Challenge is to provide opportunities for citizens and emerging entrepreneurs who want to source their experiences with the opioid crisis by launching new initiatives and testing their ideas for possible products and services.

A growing health tech startup like Cordata, founded in 2014, has over $3.5 million in funding and more than 20 employees to work on their applications. The Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge is meant to give a diverse community of would-be startup founders a chance to build and test ideas around solving the opioid crisis. These ideas can be submitted in the first round of the prize competition through Dec. 15.

Not Even Once, Christa Hyson's anti-drug abuse program focused on students in Cincinnati Public Schools, held a community discussion about the opioid epidemic at the People's Liberty offices in Over-the-Rhine.

"Typically, Third Frontier runs a traditional RFP (request for proposal) with a focus on the research community and universities," said Keith Jenkins, opioid programs manager with Ohio Third Frontier. "Here, we are backing up and casting a wider net to help us articulate what the problems are in the first place."

Meanwhile, approximately 42 letters of intent and 29 full proposals from the Ohio Opioid Abuse, Prevention and Treatment Technology Initiative, a mainstream RFP year from the State of Ohio, are under review with awards to be announced on Dec. 7.

"An RFP process can be intimidating," said Jenkins, speaking after the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge launch event. "This is a little more open source and opens the challenge to a wider audience who can respond in a variety of ways."

Spirit of collaboration is key

The best-known "C" word in business is competition. Imagine changing that to collaboration. Well, said Winzenread, collaboration and engagement are key to Cordata's mission and their model for providing solutions to the opioid epidemic.

In fact, competition collides with the concepts driving civic tech and open source technology.

"Civic tech is not about solving a problem," said Adam Hecktman, Microsoft Chicago director of Technology and Civic Innovation, speaking at the IX Health event. "It's about simplifying a drawn-out process."

With that civic tech spirit in mind, Cincinnati innovators like Brumfield, Firesheets, Hyson and Tami discuss multipronged efforts to improve the Prescription Drug Monitoring Database and ultimately ban the prescription pad.

Build stories of recovery

One phrase captures the challenges as well as the hope for a sustainable solution to the opioid epidemic: "Addiction is the absence of community."

"Where are the stories of hope and recovery?" asked Brumfield, founder of RISE (Reenter into Society Empowered), a print newspaper that provides resource information to help currently incarcerated citizens re-enter society. "Creatives are talking about us without us. We need to be in the room," she said.

Brumfield stands out on a recent panel with brand consulting and design firm Landor about Project Hope, a crowd-solving exercise to help combat the growing opioid epidemic and raise awareness around Casey's Law, a little-known ruling that allows parents and loved ones to gain court-ordered, involuntary treatment for the addicts in their lives.

"Where are the stories that inspire you to get out of addiction?"

It's a question Brumfield repeats at every event.

Winzenread agrees with Brumfield about changing the way people see the opioid epidemic by sharing stories of hope and recovery and not just overdose stats. That's why he's working on new proposals to fund more products from Cordata Health Innovations along with more case studies and a greater dataset. There will also be more SaaS platforms from new startups focused on delivering unique solutions toward ending the opioid epidemic.

Yet, the one common goal that connects all these different enterprises from a variety of industries is the desire to change people's perceptions of the opioid epidemic.

"The biggest thing right now is that every touch of a person is a learning opportunity, whether the outcome is good or bad," said Winzenread from Cordata.

Winzenread adds that there are three community funders looking to support the expansion of Cordata into eight additional Ohio counties with participating QRT teams and treatment providers. "The more people we have using it helps us fund success patterns," he said. "We need more interactions and more results that we can learn from. That's how we can make a huge impact right away."

You can learn more about the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge online.