DemLabs blog

"Follow the money", Deep Throat advised reporters investigating the Nixon Watergate scandal.

The advice is still apt and applies to many issues including the opioid crisis. But it's harder than ever to follow the people, connections and money supporting an issue. Political action committees (PACs) and the Citizens United ruling make it easier for corporations, lobbyists and politicians to hide things from the public.

A recent Washington Post article on the opioid crisis inspired a healthcare advocacy group to ask DemLabs for help. They wanted a means to map the players and motivations behind the opioid crisis. The solution had to be shareable online in an easy-to-understand manner. We chose Kumu, a wonderful, free app that maps network connections.


Information is often scattered across different publications and websites which makes it hard to collect and analyze. People have short attention spans and lack the time to dig into complex issues. Soundbites rule. What's needed is a means to present issues visually and encourage readers to explore it at their own pace in an interactive manner with links to more resources.
Kumu makes it easy to organize complex data into relationship maps. It maps the complex web of loyalties, interests, influence, and alignment of key players around important issues. These factors are intertwined in ways easier to understand when presented visually. It explains the influence that stakeholders have on different parts of the system - in an interactive, easy to share manner.
Designing a network map with Kumu
The DemLabs team collected information on the opioid crisis from sources including:
1. Publications: Washington Post, The Guardian, Salon and the NY Times
2. Donation tracking sites: MaplightCampaign Finance USA and OpenSecrets.
3. Other sources: Wikipedia, LinkedIn and Opioid Help
The team analyzed relationships and how funds were transferred between the different groups. It took a day to map the interconnections and generate the interactive infographic with the free Kumu app. This map is being updated as new details emerge, so it is likely that the map may have evolved by the time you see it.


Explore the interactive opioid epidemic map we designed with Kumu here.

The map is interactive. You can click on a symbol for more details, or hover your mouse over it to see how it relates to the other players.
Kumu benefits
The app is free for network maps that will be shared publicly.
- Network maps are stored online and can be easily to revised with new info.
- Searched can be made by the name of an individual, business, PAC or politician.
- It allows focus on a single entity and the groups it influences and is connected to.
Network maps are easy to share as links on social media or embed in websites.
- Groups and people can be tagged with photos and links to further information.
- The network map works well on laptops, tablets and phones.

The whole opioid epidemic ecosystem can be shown in one interactive Kumu network map.

It's possible to zoom into one part of the ecosystem. Here we have zoomed into the Purdue Pharma PAC to see which other entities it is connected with. This is done by just hovering over the green circle representing the PAC.










Kumu network maps can be easily shared through social media and embedded in web sites. This maximizes exposure and makes sure that the most current information on an issue is displayed. Changes made to the central map are automatically reflected to all the readers and websites.

Some insights from the map

1. Contributions were made by both employees, executives and the Purdue Pharma PAC to politicians from both parties.
2. "Opioid induced constipation reportedly afflicts 40-90 percent of opioid users. AstraZeneca reported that Movantik prescriptions increased by one-third in the months following their Super Bowl ad. A single Movantik pill retails for about $10". The Zeneca Inc. Political Action Committeehas made multiple contributions to Senator John Thune.
3. OxyContin heir and Purdue Pharma director Jonathan Sackler is a major funder of charter schools and an extensive network of pro-charter advocacy groups through his personal charity, the Bouncer Foundation.


The power of visualization
A single image is easier to understand than piles of data scattered across multiple websites and publications. The complexity is baffling and lets the powerful do things far from public view. It's vital that people understand what's going on in order to bring about change. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant", as Justice Brandeis observed.

Kumu-based network maps make complex issues easy to understand, and shed light on things that need to be fixed. Learn more on how to use Kumu here.


Co-Founder, DemLabs


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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.