Yong Ge, an assistant professor in the College of Computing and Informatics Department of Computer Science, has developed a tool that leverages social media data to help analyze use patterns of illegal drugs by young adults across the country. The National Institutes of Health funded his work.
"Up until now the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts a national survey once a year in which thousands of people are randomly selected to supply information," said Ge. "Essentially, it tries to determine what types of illegal drugs people are using. Not only was it very costly, but it generated hundreds of pages of information, some of which might not even be accurate based on the responses of those being surveyed."
Ge stated by doing the survey only once a year it makes it nearly impossible to capture the dynamics of illegal drug usage on an ongoing basis. He said through the use of social media analysis that has all changed. According to Ge, researchers can now capture and analyze data on an ongoing basis, track trends, etc., which gives them a much more powerful tool to figure out what is actually going on. Another challenge in creating this database is the different names used to describe drugs.
"People use many different street names to describe illegal drugs," said Ge. "Therefore, we need to capture that data in order to get a good sampling of what people are using. It is very rare that folks will use the real names of the illegal drug."
Ge explained that by tracking illegal drug use via social media analysis, they are able to see where certain illegal drugs are being used, sort patterns of usage of drugs, detect new ways of using drugs, etc. He said as they acquire this real-time information, they will be able to detect and report immediately what is trending and where.
The researcher said they hope to be able to supply this information to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and law enforcement authorities, eventually.
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