Apps, virtual reality now part of battle to treat addiction

Treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is never a one-size-fits all proposition, according to experts in the field. With advances in science and technology, new techniques are being used to help treat addiction and to keep drugs out the hands of those who plan to misuse them.

As many as 140 people in Butler County died from heroin-related overdoses in 2015, an all-time record, according to the county coroner’s office. There were 1,177 heroin overdoses in Ohio the same year, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Over-the-counter addiction

Ohio has seen a 71 percent decrease in the number of patients who go doctor shopping — moving from doctor to doctor in search of drugs — thanks to the pharmacy board’s computerized reporting system that began operations in 2006.

Since Feb. 1, pharmacists must use the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS) before filling a prescription.

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OARRS monitors for suspected abuse, giving a prescriber or pharmacist information regarding a patient’s prescription history. This information can help prescribers and pharmacists identify high-risk patients who would benefit from early interventions, according to OARRS.

“A doctor can write prescriptions all day, but a pharmacy has to fill them,” said Jesse Wimberly, of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.

Patients who get addicted to pain medication are now subject to new guidelines established by Gov. John Kasich that reduce the amount of painkillers that can be doled out in emergency rooms and for better physician oversight of prescriptions for people suffering chronic pain.

New approaches to treatment

Colleen Smith, director of substance abuse services at Samaritan Behavioral Health in Dayton, said advances are being made in the behavioral science field when it comes to dealing with addiction.

“There are two parts to dealing with addiction — science has allowed us to learn how different drugs affect the brain and the other part is patterned behavior,” Smith said. “You have to be able to deal with both of them to stop addiction.”

Smith said there are now apps available to download that can help addicts stay away from bad situations.

“There are apps that you download that can help with your recovery,” she said. “The app might flash a red alert if you are going near a bar, or a place that you used to get high at.”

Smith is pleased that Community First Pharmacy in Hamilton and Kroger are dispensing Narcan, the drug that reverses the effects of heroin and opiate-related overdoses, without a prescription.

Another new treatment comes in the form of virtual reality. Trey Dyer, a contributor to the website, said virtual reality is one of the newest types of treatment being used to help individuals with drug addiction.

“By stimulating as many senses as possible during (virtual reality) treatment, an individual’s brain learns a new response to a situation that in the past may lead to relapse,” Dyer said. “The idea is to squash the brain’s link between certain situational stimuli and a substance-abuse response.”

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