The Georgia Health Policy Center (GHPC) has long used systems thinking tools and principles to help stakeholders gain a holistic perspective of issues, ask the right questions, focus on the physics and populations of the underlying system, and make mental models more explicit.
In 2016, GHPC developed a systems map of elements and interactions underlying and affecting the opioid epidemic in preparation for the upcoming Legislative Health Policy Certificate Program. GHPC and a systems mapping expert interviewed representatives from state and federal health-related agencies, as well as individuals with lived experience. This map building process identified populations at risk for using opioids and the range of leverage points for intervening to address the crisis. The map provides a means to visualize intervention points at different levels within the system, including “upstream” prevention opportunities and “downstream” interventions that could provide more immediate lifesaving outcomes.
GHPC used the opioid systems map with legislators to help them visualize the broader landscape of the crisis, including the populations and mechanisms involved in distribution, use, and misuse of opioids; entry points for intervention; and the range of stakeholders within this system. In addition to an overview of systems thinking, this training provided legislators an overview of the history and impact of the opioid epidemic, including who it affects and types of interventions that others have implemented. Participants used the map as a way to ask the right questions to identify potential high leverage places to intervene within the complex system underlying the opioid epidemic. GHPC continues to revisit and revise the map, which serves as an integral part of our ongoing work with national and state-level stakeholders.