Translating Predictive Analytics for Public Health Practice: A Case Study of Overdose Prevention in Rhode Island

Bennett Allen, Daniel B. Neill, Robert C. Schell, Jennifer Ahern, Benjamin D. Hallowell, Maxwell Krieger, Victoria A. Jent, William C. Goedel, Abigail R. Cartus, Jesse L. Yedinak, Claire Pratty, Brandon D.L. Marshall, Magdalena Cerdá

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prior applications of machine learning to population health have relied on conventional model assessment criteria, limiting the utility of models as decision support tools for public health practitioners. To facilitate practitioners' use of machine learning as a decision support tool for area-level intervention, we developed and applied 4 practice-based predictive model evaluation criteria (implementation capacity, preventive potential, health equity, and jurisdictional practicalities). We used a case study of overdose prevention in Rhode Island to illustrate how these criteria could inform public health practice and health equity promotion. We used Rhode Island overdose mortality records from January 2016-June 2020 (n = 1,408) and neighborhood-level US Census data. We employed 2 disparate machine learning models, Gaussian process and random forest, to illustrate the comparative utility of our criteria to guide interventions. Our models predicted 7.5%-36.4% of overdose deaths during the test period, illustrating the preventive potential of overdose interventions assuming 5%-20% statewide implementation capacities for neighborhood-level resource deployment. We describe the health equity implications of use of predictive modeling to guide interventions along the lines of urbanicity, racial/ethnic composition, and poverty. We then discuss considerations to complement predictive model evaluation criteria and inform the prevention and mitigation of spatially dynamic public health problems across the breadth of practice. This article is part of a Special Collection on Mental Health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1659-1668
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2023


  • epidemiologic methods
  • machine learning
  • overdose
  • public health practice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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