Governments need to treat opioid addiction as an illness, not a criminal act, the UN's chief of drug prevention said during a recent conference in Baltimore. Today opioid addicts are discriminated against and victims of stigma, Dr. Gilbert Gerra told WBALTV. "We see terrible things around the world -- incarceration, labor camps or people closed in cages of bamboo for 21 days for intoxication, people immersed in water, many of these things are presented as treatment, and they are not," he added. We agree with Gerra that blaming and shaming isn't a solution. His remarks prompted us to take another look at how advances in technology could be. – Liz Enbysk
We know that drug addiction destroys lives, breaks up families, leads to homelessness and too often death. But as Dr. Gerra told WBALTV, globally only one in six people who need help have access to treatment. And often the treatment is more punishment than help.
So what's new in the war on drug addiction? Quite a lot, it seems. We've rounded up a few fresh, technology-focused approaches below. Whether any of them will win the war remains to be seen, but even winning a few battles could save lives.
Video chats in rural Appalachia: In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded five Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grants to help provide treatment for the growing opioid epidemic in rural central Appalachia. Because residents there often have limited means and the number of physicians qualified to treat addiction are also limited, the Carilion Medical Center will use its grant money to connect patients in 12 rural counties in southwest Virginia via video-chat with far-away physicians who can treat addiction.
App gives drug users anonymity in Delhi: The Times of India tells the story of Shagun Goel, a Delhi public school student and technology enthusiast who developed an app that enables drug addicts to see advice or have a discussion anonymously. The app -- Sehyog – "aims to aid victims and addicts in recognizing, understanding and fighting the issues that they face anonymously," Goel said.
Electronic brain stimulation in Nigeria: Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or rTMS, has been used for depression and other disorders. Now psychiatrists in Nigeria see potential for rTMS in battling drug addiction. What's described as a non-invasive brain stimulation therapy uses magnetic pulses to activate parts of the brain. Since people often go through rehab and then relapse, the idea is that with the rTMS machine, the brain is stimulated to reject the drug.
Wearable device tracks drug use in Worcester: Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are studying whether a Fitbit-like device can help end drug addiction. As Dr. Peter Chai explains, the device is worn on the wrist. Body movements associated with drug use – he says cocaine users, for example, tend to have a disorganized, jittery movement in their arms – are downloaded to a smartphone. "One of the things we want to figure out is how we can predict when someone who's in treatment is going to start craving their drug and whether or not we can create an intervention that really in real time prevents them from using," Chai said in a WCVB report.
Using data for greater insights
In the U.S. today, considerable effort has gone into the state-run Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), an effort in part to shut down the pill mills that fuel opioid addiction. The PDMP aggregates prescriptions written and filled into databases that physicians can search.
But as a research brief -- Data and Analytics to Combat the Opioid Epidemic – prepared by SAS Institute points out, the value of PDMPs at the patient and physician level is limited. From the brief:
Other data, including electronic health records and emergency room records, needs to be looked at simultaneously. When a patient is seeing three specialists and using more than one pharmacy, the PDMP’s simple list of prescriptions can get difficult to decipher, and the prescription is just one piece of the puzzle. Often the most important data is contextual: What caused the pain to begin with? What is the treatment plan (or possibly conflicting plans)? What’s the family context, and does the patient have someone who can provide support and monitor usage?
The authors list a number of insights that better data and analytics around opioid use and abuse could provide for all stakeholders. Download the free research brief from Council Lead Partner SAS to learn more.
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