From its outset, the wastewater analytics project was directly tied to Tempe’s performance measure of ending opioid-related abuse and misuse. The Mayor, City Council, and City Manager set the expectation that reducing calls for opioid misuse or abuse was important to the executive leadership, and that both the goal and the performance measures supporting it needed to be shared internally with the City Council and administrative staff, community partners and externally to residents.
“Whatever we do, we always approach our employees and explain it to them and take the time to have the conversations about what we’re doing and why,” Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching said. “Every job has a purpose, and that job and that purpose exist within the framework of our strategic priorities and performance measures.”
City leaders also worked to communicate their efforts around the opioid abuse epidemic to the general public. The City of Tempe held an Opioid Town Hall in February 2019 to detail the wastewater project partnership and the types of support that Tempe provides to its residents struggling with opioids, their families and caregivers.
Anyone can visit the wastewater data dashboard and the Opioid Abuse Probable EMS Call Dashboard, designed and conceptualized by Dr. Deitrick and her team. The latter dashboard, which launched in 2018, gives Tempe Fire Medical and Rescue Department and the public a window into opioid abuse in the community. It details when calls related to abuse occurred, along with patients’ ages and genders, and the number of times Narcan/Naloxone overdose reversal medication was used during opioid-abuse related emergency calls.
Together, both dashboards inform Tempe officials’ efforts to end opioid misuse and abuse in the city, and help first responders and public health agencies on the ground see the impact of the targeted outreach and other interventions. It’s too early to tell how quickly the city will advance toward its goal — it was officially set in December 2019, when the baseline percentage of opioid-related EMS calls was 3.74 — but the right approach to data is in place to drive progress.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world and in Tempe, city leaders have once again partnered with ASU wastewater researchers and are using this data in the same manner as the opioid data. The city is following the data to find areas of greatest need and is directing resources to help.