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DataBytes: Data Viz, Chemistry, Art, and Public Health: Making Sense of Street Drugs

August 29 @ 12:00 PM EDT - 1:00 PM EDT

We analyze street drug samples from around the country in our lab, and we have detected about 300 unique chemical substances. But making sense of chemicals is a notorious challenge, with long names, esoteric molecules, and overlapping pharmacological properties. Therefore, we created a flexible ontology that can adapt over time, and created visualizations to bring order to the chaos. Using a type of chord diagram called hierarchical edge bundling (.js package), we conceptualized co-occurrence of substances in the drug supply based on 6,000 drug samples from 34 US states, showing connections between classes of molecules. Working with a local graphic designer, hand drawn illustrations highlight particularly dangerous combinations of substances and tell the story of where the samples came from. At the intersection of chemistry, art, public health, and data science, our project brings order to the unruly illicit drug supply. Our key message: The drug supply is vast, but it is knowable.

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About Nabarun Dasgupta

Nabarun Dasgupta, PhD, MPH, is a scientist who studies drugs and infectious diseases. His passion is telling true stories about health with numbers. Centered in pharmaco-epidemiology, his work amplifies community and patient voices in public health.

Since 2002 he has done pioneering work in pain management, opioid overdose prevention, and addiction treatment. He also has deep expertise in health informatics and machine learning. In 2023 he was honored by being placed on the TIME100 Next list of rising global leaders.

As an applied epidemiologist, Dasgupta has served as an advisor to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO). Operating with an appreciation for the social determinants and of health, he is committed to countering the impacts of racist drug policies.

At UNC IPRC, he works at the Opioid Data Lab (OpioidData.org). His street drug analysis lab tests community-donated samples from around the country to figure out what lurks in the drug supply.

Dasgupta co-founded two pioneering non-profit organizations. Project Lazarus in Wilkes County (North Carolina) was hailed by the Obama White House as a model for community-based overdose prevention. Remedy Alliance For The People is a groundbreaking national non-profit bulk distributor of free and low-cost naloxone to harm reduction programs.

Previously he was the Chief Science Officer of Epidemico, a health informatics startup he co-founded using technology developed at Harvard Medical School. He is also an associate editor at the American Journal of Public Health.

Dasgupta earned degrees from Princeton University (molecular biology), Yale University (epidemiology of microbial diseases), and the University of North Carolina (pharmacoepidemiology). Follow him on Twitter (@nabarund). Link to Profile


August 29
12:00 PM EDT - 1:00 PM EDT