Healthy Regions + Policies Lab

Opioid Risk Environments

Understanding the drivers and impacts of opioid use disorder (OUD) necessitates a nuanced, place-based consideration of communities and varying dimensions of risk. We work on multiple projects that bring a holistic perspective to OUD social and spatial epidemiology, building on a “risk environment” conceptual model with a social determinants of health sensibility. We are especially interested in modeling syndemic approaches to OUD and upstream infections (HCV, HIV), evaluating access to medication for OUD (MOUD) as a matter of policy, and differentiating places of vulnerability and/or exposure to OUD risk factors.


HEROP Lab researchers work across the following initiatives to investigate and analyze opioid risk environments:

MAARC Geospatial Program

The geospatial program of the Methodology and Advanced Analytics Resource Center (MAARC) at the University of Chicago is part of the JCOIN network.  JCOIN is part of the of the NIH HEAL Initiative. The Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, supports a wide range of programs to develop new or improved prevention and treatment strategies for opioid addiction. Our spatial projects focus on improving accessibility metrics to evidence-based treatment for OUD, integrating and making accessible community contextual variables that better represent opioid risk environments, and improving social-spatial quasi-experimental methodology to better evaluate efficacy of MOUD programs and policies over time.

  • Opioid Environment Policy Scan. The Opioid Environment Policy Scan (OEPS) is an open-source database project providing access to data at multiple spatial scales to help characterize the multi-dimensional risk environment impacted opioid use in justice populations across the United States. The database includes more than four dozen datasets and variable constructs stratified across six spheres of influence, including Policy, Built Environment, and Health, and range from the Census tract, ZIP code, county, and state-level spatial scales. 
  • Opioid Environment Toolkit. The Opioid Environment Toolkit provides an introduction to GIS and spatial analysis for opioid environment applications, allowing researchers, analysts and practitioners to better support their communities with data analytics and visualization services. The toolkit introduces basic spatial analytic functionalities using open source tools, mainly in R, using data from the Opioid Environment Policy Scan (OEPS) as well as applied examples for visualizing, mapping, and understanding the opioid risk environment.
  • Spatial Dimensions of Opioid Risk Environments: Virtual Workshop Series. This three-part, CME-accredited interactive workshop series offered in Summer 2021 to JCOIN partners and grantees introduced researchers to data from the OEPS and resources in the Opioid Environment Toolkit for geospatial analysis and mapping applications. Recordings are available for all sessions to JCOIN members through the JCOIN portal.


ETHIC Spatial Studies

Spatial studies of the Ending transmission of HIV, HCV, and STDs and overdose in rural communities of people who inject drugs (ETHIC) project incorporate spatial epidemiological analyses of Southern IL, and support vulnerability assessment of OUD syndemics. 


New Jersey Built Environment Study

Our group supports this R21 National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) study directed by Dr. Barbara Tempalski at NDRI-USA, “Developing a public health measure of built environment to assess risk of nonmedical opioid use and related mortality in urban and non-urban areas in New Jersey,” with conceptual model consideration; data cleaning, wrangling, and integration; and index generation.


Kolak, Marynia A., Yen-Tyng Chen, Sam Joyce, Kaitlin Ellis, Kali Defever, Colleen McLuckie, Sam Friedman, and Mai T. Pho. “Rural risk environments, opioid-related overdose, and infectious diseases: A multidimensional, spatial perspective.” International Journal of Drug Policy (2020): 102727.

McLuckie, Colleen, Mai T. Pho, Kaitlin Ellis, Livia Navon, Kelly Walblay, Wiley D. Jenkins, Christofer Rodriguez et al. “Identifying areas with disproportionate local health department services relative to opioid overdose, HIV and hepatitis C diagnosis rates: a study of rural Illinois.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16, no. 6 (2019): 989.


MAARC research is supported by the National Institutes of Health through the NIH HEAL Initiative under award number U2CDA050098 (MAARC PI: John Schnieder, co-PI Harold Pollack). Spatial projects of ETHIC are funded by the National Institute of Health, UH3, and previously the UG3 project (ETHIC PI: Mai Tuyet). The NJ Built Environment project is funded by the National Institute of Health (R21 DA046739, PI: Barbara Tempalski).


There are dozens of researchers and colleagues for these projects, including: Mai Tuyet Pho, Wiley Jenkins, Jerel Ezell, Suzie Walters, Sam Friedman, John Schneider, Clovis Sarmiento, Harold Pollack, Yen-Tyng Chen, Barbara Tempalski, Leslie Williams, Paul Joudrey, Emily Wang, and more

News & Updates


Call for HEROP Summer Fellows

Healthy Regions & Policies Lab Summer Fellowship Program   The Healthy Regions & Policies Lab at the Center for Spatial Data Science is hiring multiple full- and/or part-time Summer Fellows for University of Chicago students (undergraduate or graduate)...

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