Identifying Predictors of Opioid Overdose Death at a Neighborhood Level With Machine Learning

Robert C. Schell, Bennett Allen, William C. Goedel, Benjamin D. Hallowell, Rachel Scagos, Yu Li, Maxwell S. Krieger, Daniel B. Neill, Brandon D.L. Marshall, Magdalena Cerda, Jennifer Ahern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predictors of opioid overdose death in neighborhoods are important to identify, both to understand characteristics of high-risk areas and to prioritize limited prevention and intervention resources. Machine learning methods could serve as a valuable tool for identifying neighborhood-level predictors. We examined statewide data on opioid overdose death from Rhode Island (log-transformed rates for 2016-2019) and 203 covariates from the American Community Survey for 742 US Census block groups. The analysis included a least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) algorithm followed by variable importance rankings from a random forest algorithm. We employed double cross-validation, with 10 folds in the inner loop to train the model and 4 outer folds to assess predictive performance. The ranked variables included a range of dimensions of socioeconomic status, including education, income and wealth, residential stability, race/ethnicity, social isolation, and occupational status. The R2 value of the model on testing data was 0.17. While many predictors of overdose death were in established domains (education, income, occupation), we also identified novel domains (residential stability, racial/ethnic distribution, and social isolation). Predictive modeling with machine learning can identify new neighborhood-level predictors of overdose in the continually evolving opioid epidemic and anticipate the neighborhoods at high risk of overdose mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-533
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • addiction
  • epidemiologic methods
  • machine learning
  • neighborhoods
  • opioids
  • overdose
  • prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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