Opioids: Suspected Overdose Alerts

The National Syndromic Surveillance Program tracks suspected opioid overdoses in hospital emergency departments. Each week we send email alerts to counties with an increase in suspected overdose activity.

Frequently asked questions

What are these alerts?

These county-level alerts are generated through a national emergency department surveillance system that tracks suspected opioid overdoses. We use the National Syndromic Surveillance Program BioSense Platform to learn about the suspected increase in activity so we can alert affected health departments. This process allows for more timely communication and a quick response to issues.

What triggers the alert?

An alert is triggered whenever the suspected number of opioid overdoses in emergency departments is statistically higher than usual in a specific area. A statistical increase is determined by looking at the trend from the previous 10 weeks. The expected number of opioid overdoses is estimated as if the trend would continue as is. When the observed number of cases rises above this level of expected overdoses by a statistically significant amount over a seven-day period, the system generates an alert. This could be for a number of reasons: It could indicate higher potency forms of opioids circulating within the community or numbers are so small within an area that even a small increase can impact the trend.

What action is expected at the county or local level?

We recognize that local health officials have many priorities outside of opioids within their jurisdiction. Local health officials decide whether to take action after receiving one of these alerts. We do not require local health officials to take action. Local health officials may want to inform local media and health care providers about the alert to raise awareness of the opioid crisis in their region. 

What is meant by “suspected” overdoses?

These data are based on suspected opioid overdose cases in Wisconsin. Cases are suspected because they were not confirmed by a clinician at the time the visit was transferred into the data system. Also, data are determined by a mixture of free-text fields and coded data, making it less reliable.

Why am I receiving this alert?

These alerts are part of a new effort to increase transparency and data access for local health departments to help inform decisions around programming. With more data, local health officials can make better informed decisions about health priorities in their community.

Who receives these alerts?

The alerts are set up to be emailed to county public health officers, tribal health officers, and specified staff.

Are municipal health departments able to receive alerts for smaller areas?

No. The system cannot drill down to the municipal level. It also cannot track data related to tribes.

Should local health officers expect media calls? If so, are there talking points available to use?

We do not send these alerts to the media. There are no official talking points. 

Who should I contact if I have more questions?

Health officials with questions about these alerts can contact the DHS opioids team. Members of the media with questions about these alerts should contact the DHS Media Line


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Last Revised: January 19, 2021