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Just Science Podcast: Just Partnerships to Enhance Overdose Fatality Review

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2021

This fifth episode in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Dr. Mallory O’Brien, Assistant Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, who discusses how partnerships can improve Overdose Fatality Reviews.


Dr. O’Brien has a PhD in Epidemiology and has been a researcher with public health, community, and criminal justice partners in Milwaukee for the past 14 years. She has led the development, implementation, and expansion of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission (MHRC) and DataShare. Background information for the interview notes that the national Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) is the only state-based reporting system for all types of violent deaths, including homicides and suicides. It pools just over 600 data elements from multiple sources into an anonymous, usable database. Dr. O’Brien has used her experience with NVDRS to improve the overdose fatality review (OFR) process. In the current interview, she discusses leveraging partnerships to improve overdose fatality reviews, their impact on communities with substance abuse problems, and the historical context that led to fatality reviews. The interview focuses on the reasons for an OFR and who should be included in providing input for the OFR report.  OFR reports provide important input for communities that pertain to healthcare, drug treatment, drug prevention, family services, and drug law enforcement. The medical examiner, who determines cause of death, determines whether the death was caused by a drug overdose and the drug(s) that caused the death. Other disciplines represented in an OFR can provide background information on the decedent’s recent behaviors, treatments received or not received, drug-use patterns, access to drugs, law enforcement contacts, and justice processing. The OFR report can be instrumental in preventing drug overdose fatalities through reforms in healthcare, legislation, criminal justice, drug abuse prevention, public education, and family services.

Date Published: February 1, 2021