JMIR Public Health and Surveillance

Drug Abuse Ontology to Harness Web-Based Data for Substance Use Epidemiology Research: Ontology Development Study

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Background: Web-based resources and social media platforms play an increasingly important role in health-related knowledge and experience sharing. There is a growing interest in the use of these novel data sources for epidemiological surveillance of substance use behaviors and trends. Methods: The domain and scope of the DAO were defined using competency questions from popular ontology methodology (101 ontology development). The 101 method includes determining the domain and scope of ontology, reusing existing knowledge, enumerating important terms in the ontology, defining the classes, their properties, and creating instances of the classes. The quality of the ontology was evaluated using a set of tools and best practices recognized by the semantic web community and the artificial intelligence community that engage in natural language processing. Results: The current version of the DAO comprises 315 classes, 31 relationships, and 814 instances among the classes. The ontology is flexible and can easily accommodate new concepts. The integration of the ontology with machine learning algorithms dramatically decreased the false alarm rate by adding external knowledge to the machine learning process. The ontology is recurrently updated to capture evolving concepts in different contexts and applied to analyze data related to social media and dark web marketplaces. Conclusions: The DAO provides a powerful framework and a useful resource that can be expanded and adapted to a wide range of substance use and mental health domains to help advance big data analytics of web-based data for substance use epidemiology research.


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cryptomarket, illicit drugs, knowledge graph, ontology, semantic web, social media

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