When it comes to treating the opioid crisis, digital tools may be able to tackle some of the trickiest issues that the current care model cannot, according to a recently released Rock Health report. The report zeros in on some of the major road blocks in treating addiction and how digital could be the key to addressing these needs.
Those challenges include the variability between treatment options, the episodic nature of care and the lack of people seeking treatment.
First, technology could enable frequent data capture so that users and providers could make sure the tool is working. When it comes to the episodic nature, researchers say the digital tools could remedy this by scaling platforms and offering care outside of a designated setting. Lastly, the authors wrote that digital could play a role in expanding the scope of who receives treatment because it would increase the access to care thanks to low-cost services on digital devices.
“While it’s a long road ahead, we are at a time of unique promise. We’re seeing many entrepreneurs and startups leveraging technology to increase access to prevention and treatment services,” the authors of the report wrote. “And the federal government has taken notice of technology’s potential to transform this space for the better — the FDA launched and innovation challenge to combat the opioid crisis and President Trump signed a bipartisan bill that expands opioid specific telemedicine services.”
While there are dozens of digital companies out there focused on addition, the report narrowed in on six companies working on the technology: Carrot, Chrono Therapeutics, DynamiCare Health, Pear Therapeutics, Marigold Health and Workit. Researchers found that all of the companies used at least one or all of these four strategies: pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, contingency management and social support networks.
The report also offered some questions for further exploration, including how employees will feel about digital programs that are offered by their employer, what are the most viable, profitable and scalable business models and how will these technologies remain human centered.
Why it matters
Around 80 million people in the United States are struggling with alcohol or a drug use disorder, according to the report.
Since 1999 the rates of drug related deaths has skyrocket from a little over 15,000 to 72,306 in 2017, according to the report. Fentanyl, a particularly potent opioid, has also come into the mix in recent years and been mixed with other opioids such as heroine.
What's the trend
More and more digital health companies are beginning to get involved with addiction treatments. Startups are focusing on different areas including prevention, treatment and support.
Meanwhile, legislature backing telemedicine programs for opioid addiction treatments has seen bipartisan support, and social media networks have begun to surface support resources following relevant searches.
On the record
“Though technology will not 'solve' the addiction crisis, it is well-positioned to vastly improve addition treatment,” the report reads.