How Med Tech is Helping Put an End to the Opiate Epidemic

In the past, I’ve written about the stigmas associated with addiction as well as the integral role of nurses in addiction treatment. In this piece, I’ll focus on what has become the most problematic and widespread form of addiction the world is currently facing.

There’s no beating around the bush: the world has an opiate addiction problem. The most dangerous drug of choice for Americans used to be cocaine, but not anymore. The number one source of overdose related deaths is now opiates, in all its toxic, addictive forms.

Specifically, the U.S. is more addicted to opiates (such as painkillers and heroin) than most places in the world. While the U.S. only accounts for about 5 percent of the global population, we consume 80 percent of the world’s opioid supply.

Furthermore, this is an issue that is drastically affecting our nation's youth. In recent years, an estimated 28,000 adolescents use heroin each year in America. And of course, drug use among college students certainly has an impact on grades and can ultimately cause students to drop out of school. Even medical students have been experiencing a rise in opiate addiction. It is common for such students to spiral into addictive lifestyles.

It’s clear that there is a lot at stake. We’ve hit a pivotal point where deaths by opiate overdose are almost double that of car crashes. So what can we do to combat statistics like these?

Fortunately, the tech-heavy world we live in has developed several methods to help resolve drug addiction efforts through technological wonders. But what do these tech tactics look like? And how are they working in conjunction to rehabilitation and other forms of crucial treatment?

Tech-Assisted Care Through Addiction Recovery Apps

Just as digital interfaces such as QuitNet have helped smokers break the habit, there are many digitally ingrained tools to help opiate addicts turn their lives around. The following apps are helpful for those struggling with addiction and offer unique ways to incorporate a smartphone app into the recovery process.

  • Ascent is a support app utilizing peer coaches, most of which have struggled with and overcome addiction in the past themselves. Ascent is for any type of life-altering addiction and gives those recovering access to help 24/7/365. It’s customizable and can be paired with a recovery partner.
  • Today’s Step keeps those in recovery inspired through daily motivational quotes, meditation and gentle exercise reminders, and through community building where others facing addiction share their stories.
  • recoveryBox uses a metaphorical stop light system, that tracks positive actions good habits (represented by "green lights”) and keeps accountability at the forefront by pointing out addictive habits that may cause relapses ("yellow lights" and "red lights”). When the “red lights” are tracked, those recovering from addiction get data that may help make patterns of triggering behavior in check.
  • Quit That tracks the amount of time you’ve been sober. The app gives a breakdown of hours, days, and months a person has been off a drug. It also shows how much money a person has saved by deciding to quit that habit.

In addition to the above-mentioned apps, there are many social media sites specifically for those changing their lives and breaking the ties of addiction. The social media platforms In the Rooms, The Daily Pledge, and Sober Grid all seem very promising for community building and support for addicts.

Virtual Reality Headsets

The world of Virtual Reality (VR) has become intertwined with most things nowadays, from video games to interior design to drug addiction therapy. An interesting article by Motherboard points out the main way VR is used to help understand and treat addictions to drugs like heroin:

“Traditional relapse therapy usually involves role playing: Therapists often pretend to be a friend or some other familiar person and offer the patient their drug of choice in order to teach them avoidance strategies. By strapping patients into a virtual reality headset and running them through a familiar scenario where they commonly use the drug, like a party, the treatment can be much more realistic and effective.The trick is to make addicts crave drugs. And then choose not to use.”

As VR continues to expand and the gear becomes increasingly affordable, odds are that this form of tech therapy will only evolve and reach more people in need.

Gamification

Doctors, counselors, and nurses of tomorrow must embrace the technological advantages of the next generation of addiction recovery. A unique and inviting approach is through what’s known as gamification.

This process helps skyrocket productivity and has been proven to work in a plethora of ways. When it comes to a gamified treatment plan for those addicted to heavy drugs, the future is promising. Through gamification addicts will be able to overcome addiction in a surprisingly entertaining way.

  • Engagement in the process of change
  • Fostering intrinsic motivation
  • Rewarding small, medium and long term goals through explicit systems of titrated challenge
  • Use of narrative or other metaphors for life goal change
  • Use of social, exploratory, achievement and competition to encourage change

Taking a route that is game-based will be rewarding for addicts in a newfound way. Who decided that addiction therapy had to be boring and emotionally straining all the time?

Whether those struggling with addiction choose to put on a VR headset, reach for their smartphones for moral support, or utilize a game-based approach, the future of addiction treatment is here and it’s certainly blooming! The rates at which addicts seek help and stick to long term recovery plans is likely to grow as technological elements to treatment will continue to pour in.

6/7/2018 7:00:00 AM
Robert Parmer
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Robert Parmer is a health and fitness enthusiast, a freelance web writer, a student of Boise State University and a chef. Outside of writing and reading adamantly, he enjoys creating and recording music, caring for his pet cat, and commuting by bicycle whenever possible. He considers himself both a health foods and non-s...
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