Technology: Novel methods for treating addiction

 

Drug overdose accounted for the deaths of more than 50,000 Americans in 2015, reported the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That number has more than doubled since 2002. Treating addiction must become a top priority for clinicians and policy makers, or the mortality rate is likely to rise further.

America's opioid problem

Much has already been written about America's opioid epidemic and some of it is well worth repeating. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that more Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any other year on record, and opioid use continues to be a serious problem.

Here are a few more statistics from the HHS:

  • Opioid misuse costs Americans around $55 billion in healthcare and social support each year.
  • U.S. doctors write 650,000 opioid prescriptions every day.
  • 580 people use heroin for the first time each day.

Many states are ill-equipped to handle significant numbers of opioid addiction cases, so some private companies have begun developing technologies to help stem the tide of rampant addiction and substance abuse.

Using smartphones to treat addiction

Mobile health technology - often abbreviated as mHealth - is a rapidly expanding market. From fitness trackers to medication reminders, mobile apps have the potential to help users improve their physical health from the devices in the palms of their hands.

"Triggr can predict a relapse with 92% accuracy."

MIT Technology Review reported on a new app that aims to help prevent drug abuse relapses. It's called Triggr Health and its goal is to predict and prevent relapses before they happen. According to the source, Triggr connects users to a network of trained recovery coaches. If a user doesn't get in touch with a coach on a daily basis, a coach will reach out to them. And that's not all.

Triggr​'s machine learning logic uses location, screen engagement, texting habits, sleep history and phone logs to predict when a relapse is likely to occur. When the system notices a user is in danger of relapsing, a recovery coach contacts them.

There's no word yet as to how much the app will cost - but compared to the average $17,000 cost of a 30-day inpatient treatment, the trade off is likely a good one.

Exercise as addiction treatment

Even basic fitness tracking apps can be used as tools to prevent substance abuse relapse. According to Recovery.org, people who exercise regularly are more likely to avoid substance addiction than those who do not.

When combined with a support group and doctor supervision, regular exercise can be a great way for people to reduce the likelihood of a relapse. This is another area where smartphone apps can help users stick to their health goals.

Addiction treatment is a lifelong process, and while people can't visit their doctor every day, they likely have 24/7 access to their smartphones, making this a uniquely effective avenue for personal health maintenance.

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