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HHS Opioids Code-a-Thon FAQs

Topics: Event & Logistics | Participation | The Competition | Additional Information | Post-Event Summary

The HHS Opioids Code-a-Thon and Symposium took place on December 6 and 7, 2017. The intention of this webpage was to inform and prepare teams for the challenge competition prior to the event.

Event & Logistics

Where is the Code-a-Thon being held?

The Code-a-Thon will be held at the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters, located at The Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue S.W., Washington, DC, 20201.

How do I get to the Code-a-Thon?

The Hubert H. Humphrey Building is accessible by metro via Blue/Orange/Silver lines to Federal Center SW or Green/Yellow/Blue/Orange/Silver lines to L’Enfant Plaza. Parking is not available at the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, but there are a number of garages nearby that offer daily and overnight parking.

Code-a-Thon participants should enter the building through the main entrance on Independence Avenue SW. Participants will pass through security and will be required to place all belongings through a metal detector. Participants will be escorted into the building by an HHS employee in order to access the Great Hall where the Code-a-Thon will take place. Participants will require a government issued ID to enter. Participants should plan to arrive at the Humphrey Building between 10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on December 6 to check-in to the Code-a-Thon.

Where will I sleep?

Code-a-Thon participants will be able to stay overnight at HHS on the night of December 6 as they work through the 24-hour coding period, and a quiet space will be provided in the building should participants wish to rest. If participants do not wish to stay overnight, there are a number of hotels in the immediate area.

Will any meals be provided?

Code-a-Thon participants will be provided dinner on December 6, breakfast on December 7, and lunch on December 7. Coffee and some late-night snacks will also be provided as participants work through the evening. There are some food options in the immediate area and a cafeteria in the building (open for breakfast and lunch only) should participants wish to eat elsewhere.

Will HHS offer travel reimbursements?

HHS does not intend to provide reimbursement for any costs associated with travel and accommodations at this time.

When should I arrive?

Participants should plan to arrive between 10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on December 6 to check-in to the Code-a-Thon. Due to the security requirements and the high volume of attendees, we recommend that participants arrive as early as possible during the check-in period to avoid delays.

What is the schedule for the event?

The Code-a-Thon will begin at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday, December 6, and will conclude by 6:15 p.m. on Thursday, December 7.

What should I bring?

Code-a-Thon participants should bring their laptops, chargers, and anything else they will need to participate in the event. Participants also must bring a valid, government-issued ID in order to be granted entrance to the building. We highly encourage participants to bring whatever else they need to make themselves comfortable, including blankets, pillows, and extra snacks!

Will any hardware be provided? Can I bring my own hardware?

HHS will not supply hardware, but participants are welcome to bring any hardware they would like to use for the purposes of building or demoing their solution. Please be mindful that the hardware will need to go through building security.


Who is eligible?

Please see our Eligibility Rules for Participating in the Competition for the official eligibility requirements. In addition to meeting all individual eligibility requirements, HHS is requesting that interested competitors form teams that consist of three to five individuals and indicate the following qualifications:

  • Team Skillsets: Team indicates that they possess computer programming, data analytics, and end user design skillsets;
  • Team Multidisciplinary Expertise: Team indicates expertise in any 2 of the following areas relevant to the challenge tracks: health, analytics, social science, design, and/or engineering; and,
  • Team Experience: The team indicates that they collectively have 10 years of experience in their respective fields and/or previously participated in a public or private sector sponsored Code-a-Thon.
Are federal employees eligible to win a cash prize in the Code-a-Thon (even if the cash prize is not federal dollars)?

Federal employees are eligible to compete. Teams with federal employees can win cash prizes but it is policy that the cash prizes cannot be awarded to federal employees.

Are non-U.S. individuals or entities eligible to win a cash prize in the Code-a-Thon (even if the cash prize is not federal dollars)?

Foreign nationals are eligible to compete. Teams with foreign nationals can win cash prizes but it is policy that the cash prizes cannot be awarded to foreign nationals.

How do I register?

To be considered for participation, each team must submit one intention to participate. We ask that each team is pre-formed prior to submitting their intent to participate and that each team consists of 3-5 individuals. Teams will be confirmed via email on a rolling basis and will hear back from HHS no later than November 15 regarding their registration status.

What if I don’t have a team?

Interested individuals looking to form a team or find additional team members are encouraged to visit the discussion section of the Challenge.gov page. Should you submit an intent to register without a full team of 3-5 individuals, HHS will request that you identify additional team members prior to reviewing your registration.

The Competition

What are the challenge tracks?

The challenge questions for this Code-a-Thon fall into three tracks:

  • Treatment Track: Using available data, create a means by which federal, state, and local stakeholders can improve access to effective treatment and recovery services.
  • Usage Track: Using available data, create a means by which federal, state, and local stakeholders can identify at-risk populations and their underlying risk characteristics for opioid misuse or abuse.
  • Prevention Track: With the aim of more effectively planning and deploying proactive public health interventions, use available data to create a means by which federal, state, and local stakeholders can predict and analyze the supply and movement of illicit opioids.

Please see the official public notice on our Challenge.gov page for full details on each challenge track.

When do I choose my challenge track?

Teams will select the challenge question they wish to address when submitting their intent to participate. Should a team wish to change their selected challenge question, they may do so by updating their registration information. More information on updating registration information.

How will I access the data?

All datasets provided for the Code-a-Thon will be housed on a single third-party portal. Registered participants will be granted access to the portal for the event and have access to building Wifi. A video tutorial will be available to Code-a-Thon participants closer to the event describing how to use the portal and access the datasets.

What datasets will be made available for the Code-a-Thon?

Data will include federal, state, local, and private industry datasets. Please refer to HHS.gov/Challenges for examples of public HHS and federal government data that will be available on the platform on Tuesday, November 29th. Restricted data will not be released until the day of the event. Please note that per the challenge judging criteria, teams are expected to develop solutions that connect a variety of health data sources – of which at least one is an HHS dataset.

When will I get access to the data?

Most publicly available datasets will be made available to participants one week prior to the competition. Restricted datasets will be announced and made available during the Code-a-Thon.

Can I use datasets not provided by HHS for this Code-a-Thon?

Code-a-Thon participants are welcome to use any publicly available datasets during the Code-a-Thon (beyond those made available by HHS) in addition to any private datasets as long as they have the appropriate permissions and authorizations.

Can I begin working on solutions in advance of the event?

Teams are encouraged to begin general research and brainstorming in advance of the Code-a-Thon. HHS intends for competitors to develop their solutions during the Code-a-Thon on December 6 – 7, at which point federal, state, local, and private industry datasets will be made available. The datasets provided during the Code-a-Thon are intended to drive and inform the development of innovative ideas and solutions.

What are the prizes?

The total purse of up to $30,000 in prizes will be paid by co-sponsors with the following ceilings of each amount:

  • Winner of Opioid Treatment Challenge Track: $10,000
  • Winner of Opioid Usage Challenge Track: $10,000
  • Winner of Opioid Misuse Prevention Challenge Track: $10,000

Please see the official announcement of challenges requirements and registration for full details on the prizes.

What are the demonstration requirements?

For the initial round of judging on December 7, participants will be required to give a five-minute, in person presentation to the judging panel that includes the following information:

  • Team Name, Participant Names, Organization(s), and Primary Point of Contact
  • Challenge Track
  • Data resources utilized
  • Written summary of the solution
  • Representative screenshots and descriptions of the solution’s functionality
  • Link to the solution

For the initial round, HHS will provide a template to assist with presentations.

If selected for the final round, which will occur immediately following the first round, participants will be asked to perform a five-minute, live demo of their solution in front of the judging panel and audience.

How will solutions be judged?

Solutions will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Design: The solution takes into account user-centered design principles. The user interface is visually appealing, well laid out, intuitive, and easy to use and understand.
  • Potential for Impact: The solution has a clear user and positions local, state, and/or federal actors to make significant strides in advancing treatment, understanding usage, or improving prevention.
  • Technical Achievement: The solution addresses the primary goals of the Code-a-Thon through connecting a variety of health data sources – of which at least one is an HHS dataset – and demonstrates potential for scale and/or broader application in public health.
  • Innovation: The solution represents a new, original idea that integrates data in an unprecedented and novel way.
What are the rules related to IP rights for this challenge?
  • Upon submission, each Applicant warrants that he or she is the sole author and owner of the work and any pertinent Intellectual Property (IP) rights, that the work is wholly original of the Applicant (or is an improved version of an existing work that the Applicant has sufficient rights to use—including the substantial improvement of existing open-source work), and that it does not infringe any copyright or any other rights of any third party.  
  • Upon completion of the Challenge, applicants consent to grant HHS an unlimited, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide license and right to reproduce, publically perform, publically display, and use the Submission for promotional purposes relating to the Challenge.
  • Submissions must be free of malware. Applicant agrees that HHS may conduct testing on the product to determine whether malware or other security threats may be present. HHS may disqualify a submission if, in HHS's sole judgment, it may damage the government or others’ equipment or operating environment.
  • Applicants retain ownership of any software, research or other intellectual property (“IP”) that they develop in connection therewith.  Winning applicants agree to grant a perpetual, royalty-free license to the Federal Agency sponsor (HHS) for the use of the IP developed in connection with the Challenge as set forth herein.
  • If the Submission includes any third party works (such as third party content or open source code), Applicant must be able to provide, upon request, documentation of all appropriate licenses and releases for use of such third party works. If Applicant cannot provide documentation of all required licenses and releases, Federal Agency sponsor (HHS) reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to disqualify the applicable Submission.
Will we be able to keep the data for use outside of the Code-a-thon?

All participants will sign a confidentiality agreement prior to the Code-a-Thon that prohibits anyone from using the restricted datasets outside of the Code-a-Thon.

Are participants required to use all datasets?

No. The only requirement is that teams use at least one HHS dataset.

What should I wear?

Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable attire.

Additional Information

Where can I go for additional information?

Please visit HHS Challenge: Opioid Symposium & Code-a-Thon for more information. HHS also held a live webinar for participants providing additional context on the challenge and answering questions related to the Code-a-Thon. For those that were unable to attend, a recording will be sent out via email.

How can I get answers to other questions?

If you are not able to find the answers to your questions here, please email idealab@hhs.gov. We will respond to your inquiry within three business days.

Post-Event Summary

Who won?
  • In the prevention track coders were asked, “How can you help federal, state, and local stakeholders predict and analyze the supply and movement of legal and illicit opioids?” The Visionist Inc. team came up with a program called Take Back America, to assess the unmet need in five states for takeback programs at pharmacies where unused or unneeded opioids can be returned, therefore taking a source of opioids out of circulation.
  • In the treatment track coders were asked, “How can you help federal, state, and local stakeholders improve access to effective treatment and recovery services?” The Origami Innovations team, from New Haven, Connecticut produced a model designed for real-time tracking of overdoses, allowing first responders and health authorities to be prepared for tracking events such as an outbreak of fentanyl overdoses in communities. This real time tracking would enable area hospitals and local health departments to allocate resources where they are most needed.
  • In the usage track coders were asked, “How can you help federal, state, and local stakeholders identify at-risk populations and their underlying risk characteristics of opioid misuse or abuse?” The Opioid Prescriber Awareness Tool (OPAT) team borrowed from military aviation to create an instrument panel providing clinicians with a visual representation of their opioid prescribing patterns compared with those of their peers. The tool also informs the referral process and provides easy access to contact information for multi-modal pain and addiction treatment options in the prescriber's area.
Who were the speakers and can I watch the presentations?
What happened during the Code-a-thon?

For more on the Code-a-Thon and winners, view the press release.

Will there be more events like these in the future?
  • The Office of the CTO and the Chief Data Officer are focused now on creating a Department-wide data strategy and establishing formal data use agreements for the Department.
  • We are interested in exploring how public-private partnerships can be used to leverage data to solve problems.


Content created by Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Content last reviewed on January 4, 2018