Notre Dame researchers develop first-ever public database of nationwide opioid transactions

Author: Grashorn, Christine

The weight of the opioid crisis is heavy. From 2006 to 2019 over one hundred metric tons of prescription opioid pain relievers – roughly the weight of a loaded Boeing 757-200 aircraft, were dispensed to individuals across the state of Indiana. Widespread opioid use is leading to devastating socioeconomic and health challenges, but organizations and policymakers working to fix the problem have not had a clear picture of opioid manufacture and travel. Now, a first-of-its-kind public database developed by researchers at the University of Notre Dame is revealing new details by enabling public access to over ten years of national controlled substance transaction information.

The database was created to store The Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), a collection of over 550 million detailed opioid transactions from 2006 to 2019 that were submitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) by manufacturers and distributors of controlled substances.

Providing an efficient way for policymakers and health professionals to acquire the data was a high priority for Notre Dame alumnus, Paul Ferrell Jr. ‘94, a lead attorney in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, where the ARCOS data served as a key piece of evidence.

Researchers from across campus collaborated with Ferrell to develop a website where the records could be stored for public use. William Evans, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics and co-founder of the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), and Ethan Leiber, Gilbert F. Schaefer Associate Professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Economics, partnered with the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society’s Applied Analytics & Emerging Technology Lab (AETL) to facilitate the design and development of the new platform,, which launched in late 2023.

William Evans, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics and co-founder of LEO, notes how the opioid crisis has been particularly devastating for those in poverty. “Understanding the root of the drug crisis is crucial for medical professionals, researchers, and policymakers to mitigate its impact effectively. This is critical as this crisis has been particularly devastating for certain groups such as those who have been left behind in the economy. With this data, we now have unbelievable detail about the origins of this crisis and we hope that this information can be part of developing solutions.”

The website offers customizable queries that trace the journey of individual prescription opioid purchases from the state and county of manufacture, to distribution within communities where they are dispensed.

Michael Kennel, lead software solutions architect with AETL, developed the user interface for ARCOS. He hopes that access to the data on will provide insights into understanding the rise of opioid misuse in America. “The opioid crisis has claimed millions of lives. To change that, researchers need an easier way to obtain and analyze the data behind the crisis,” he said.

Nitesh Chawla, founding director of the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society, and Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, notes that the project’s goal to provide a use-oriented access to substance abuse transaction data aligns with Notre Dame’s goal of pursuing research that provides discoveries to enhance human well-being. He describes the opioid epidemic as “one of society’s wicked problems.”

“Addressing this challenge is central to the mission of the Lucy Family Institute and is aligned with the University’s strategic framework,” Chawla said. “The data itself is not going to save a life, but the results from our collective research using the data can provide impactful data innovations that promote the prosperity of humanity. We are grateful for this collaboration with LEO, as it truly is a story of domain-informed data-driven research for societal impact”

This effort also informs a larger data platform initiative being launched by AETL this year which "aims to scale impact by reducing barriers to access data and leverage advanced machine learning resources," said Rick Johnson, Managing Director of AETL.

The website will expand as more information is collected to include additional years. In anticipation of this, the AETL team is continuing to optimize the user experience by developing enhanced query tools and file export options. Kennel explains that “at AETL, the apps that we build may not necessarily have an immediate impact on someone's life, but we're enabling people to do things that will have that kind of lasting impact.”

To learn more about future AETL project collaborations, please visit the Lucy Family Institute website.


Christine Grashorn, Communications Specialist
Notre Dame Research / University of Notre Dame / 574.631.4856 / @UNDResearch

About the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society

Guided by Notre Dame’s Mission, the Lucy Family Institute adventurously collaborates on advancing data-driven convergence research, translational solutions, and education to ethically address society’s wicked problems. As an innovative nexus of academia, industry, and the public, the Institute also fosters data science access to strengthen diverse and inclusive capacity building within communities. Our vision is to become the preeminent intellectual beacon, inspiring collaborative, equitable, and impactful data innovations as a global force for good.

About the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities

Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) helps service providers apply scientific evaluation methods to better understand and share effective poverty interventions. LEO matches top researchers with passionate leaders in the social service sector to conduct impact evaluations that identify innovative, effective, and scalable programs and policies that help people move permanently out of poverty. At LEO, we believe rigorous research is a powerful means to an end. An end to injustice. An end to dependence. An end to poverty. And a new beginning for millions of families who are ready to thrive.