Artificial Intelligence

Digital Drug Dealers?: Machine Learning Approaches to Detect Illegal Online Opioid Sales

Monday, December 17, 2018, 11:00am - 12:00pm PSTiCal
conference room 689
This event is open to the public.
AI Seminar
Tim Mackey, UCSD

Currently the US in the midst of an opioid epidemic that claims of the lives of 115 per day who die from overdose.  One critical component of this public health crisis is illicit access to prescription opioids and other opioid-derived drugs (including heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl).  In fact, there are may ways to illicitly source drugs, including via the Internet, where illegal online pharmacies and drug dealers market and sell their products directly to consumers.  One part of the Internet that is subject to rising scrutiny is social media, where popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, have been identified as conduits for illegal opioid access.  In this talk, I will discuss research conducted by a multidisciplinary team of public health and computer science experts on using machine learning to detect, classify and report illicit online sales of opioids.  The discussion will include the data management, analysis, classification, and visualization approaches used by the team, efforts to translate results to policy action with various stakeholders, and current commercialization activities through grant mechanisms. I will also discuss broader application of the methods to other use cases.

Tim Ken Mackey is an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Global Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, the Director of Healthcare Research and Policy at UC San Diego - Extension, and is the Director of the Global Health Policy Institute ( He holds a BA in Political Science-International Relations, a Masters Degree in Health Policy & Law and also earned his PhD in Global Public Health from the joint doctoral program at UC San Diego - San Diego State University.  Prof. Mackey's work has been featured in high-impact journals such as Science, JAMA, Nature Biotechnology, the Lancet, Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, and BMC Medicine. His research and expertise has also been featured in major news outlets such as CNN, NPR, and POLITICO Pro. His work focuses on an array of multidisciplinary topics in domestic and global public health. He also has extensive professional experience including over 10 years experience in the private sector and acting as a consultant for the World Health Organization, the US Department of State and others.


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