Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / May 2, 2017

Using technology in the fight against drug addiction

Written by Gianluca Quaglio and Amr Dawood, Disorders due to the abuse of licit and illicit drugs are a major…


Written by Gianluca Quaglio and Amr Dawood,

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Disorders due to the abuse of licit and illicit drugs are a major public health concern in the EU, with considerable interpersonal, physical and societal consequences. In the EU, 23 million people are affected by alcohol-related disorders, 24 % of the population smoke, and more than 16 million Europeans (aged 15–34) have used cannabis in the last year. It is estimated that about 2.4 million young adults have used cocaine in the last 12 months.

The sheer magnitude of the problem calls for wide-ranging and effective mitigation and prevention strategies. As part of this response, technology-based interventions for substance-use disorders include computer-assisted behaviour therapies, education, prevention and information interventions, recovery support programmes and wellness monitoring.

A study published by STOA in March 2017, provides a critical literature review on the efficacy of technology-based interventions for drug addiction management. A survey among European experts in the field of addiction was also carried out for the purposes of the study. The study shows that new technologies have the potential to provide parallel or alternative instruments of information, prevention and treatment in the addiction field.

Read the study on ‘Technological innovation strategies in substance use disorders‘ here.

The widespread and growing availability of new technologies presents an opportunity for broad dissemination and increased access to treatment. This opens up enormous possibilities, as a great number of people with substance-use disorders do not seek treatment at present. This means that existing treatment options are not suitable or sufficiently interesting for all subjects with addiction-related problems, and new modes of therapy should be considered and explored.

The number of technology-based interventions applied to substance use disorders has increased greatly in Europe over the past decade. With the development of new internet-based treatments worldwide, knowledge in this specific field is growing steadily. Despite encouraging progress, computer-based treatments for substance-use disorders need to be evaluated with caution. Across research studies, there are methodological difficulties, such as a lack of common definitions, selection biases, inappropriate research designs, difficulties in mounting randomised clinical trials, and uncertain conclusions drawn from findings. There is, however, sufficient evidence to continue to investigate the benefits, but also the limits, of new technologies for substance-use disorders. The evidence gathered to date emphasises the potential of this approach to affect, and perhaps, in the near future, to deeply transform, existing models of health care delivery in the field of addiction.

To keep up to date with this project and other STOA activities, follow our website, the EPRS blog, Twitter and Think Tank pages. We would be grateful if you would also complete the feedback questionnaire on the STOA website (on the list of studies first click on the title of the study and then on the link ‘Your opinion counts for us. Click here.’).

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