Evaluation of Machine-Learning Algorithms for Predicting Opioid Overdose Risk Among Medicare Beneficiaries With Opioid Prescriptions

Wei Hsuan Lo-Ciganic, James L. Huang, Hao H. Zhang, Jeremy C. Weiss, Yonghui Wu, C. Kent Kwoh, Julie M. Donohue, Gerald Cochran, Adam J. Gordon, Daniel C. Malone, Courtney C. Kuza, Walid F. Gellad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Importance: Current approaches to identifying individuals at high risk for opioid overdose target many patients who are not truly at high risk. Objective: To develop and validate a machine-learning algorithm to predict opioid overdose risk among Medicare beneficiaries with at least 1 opioid prescription. Design, Setting, and Participants: A prognostic study was conducted between September 1, 2017, and December 31, 2018. Participants (n = 560 057) included fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries without cancer who filled 1 or more opioid prescriptions from January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2015. Beneficiaries were randomly and equally divided into training, testing, and validation samples. Exposures: Potential predictors (n = 268), including sociodemographics, health status, patterns of opioid use, and practitioner-level and regional-level factors, were measured in 3-month windows, starting 3 months before initiating opioids until loss of follow-up or the end of observation. Main Outcomes and Measures: Opioid overdose episodes from inpatient and emergency department claims were identified. Multivariate logistic regression (MLR), least absolute shrinkage and selection operator-type regression (LASSO), random forest (RF), gradient boosting machine (GBM), and deep neural network (DNN) were applied to predict overdose risk in the subsequent 3 months after initiation of treatment with prescription opioids. Prediction performance was assessed using the C statistic and other metrics (eg, sensitivity, specificity, and number needed to evaluate [NNE] to identify one overdose). The Youden index was used to identify the optimized threshold of predicted score that balanced sensitivity and specificity. Results: Beneficiaries in the training (n = 186 686), testing (n = 186 685), and validation (n = 186 686) samples had similar characteristics (mean [SD] age of 68.0 [14.5] years, and approximately 63% were female, 82% were white, 35% had disabilities, 41% were dual eligible, and 0.60% had at least 1 overdose episode). In the validation sample, the DNN (C statistic = 0.91; 95% CI, 0.88-0.93) and GBM (C statistic = 0.90; 95% CI, 0.87-0.94) algorithms outperformed the LASSO (C statistic = 0.84; 95% CI, 0.80-0.89), RF (C statistic = 0.80; 95% CI, 0.75-0.84), and MLR (C statistic = 0.75; 95% CI, 0.69-0.80) methods for predicting opioid overdose. At the optimized sensitivity and specificity, DNN had a sensitivity of 92.3%, specificity of 75.7%, NNE of 542, positive predictive value of 0.18%, and negative predictive value of 99.9%. The DNN classified patients into low-risk (76.2% [142 180] of the cohort), medium-risk (18.6% [34 579] of the cohort), and high-risk (5.2% [9747] of the cohort) subgroups, with only 1 in 10 000 in the low-risk subgroup having an overdose episode. More than 90% of overdose episodes occurred in the high-risk and medium-risk subgroups, although positive predictive values were low, given the rare overdose outcome. Conclusions and Relevance: Machine-learning algorithms appear to perform well for risk prediction and stratification of opioid overdose, especially in identifying low-risk subgroups that have minimal risk of overdose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e190968
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluation of Machine-Learning Algorithms for Predicting Opioid Overdose Risk Among Medicare Beneficiaries With Opioid Prescriptions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this