A team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester is experimenting with using a fitness tracker to monitor and prevent relapses in patients trying to recover from drug addictions. In a study involving four ER patients who were taking supervised doses of morphine, and a volunteer outpatient who used cocaine recreationally, the team was able to collect information on the different drugs’ effects on the body. For instance, cocaine use caused a “hurricane of movement” with decreased temperature, while morphine increased temperature but decreased movement.
In December of 2015 the team recruited 15 more patients in rehab programs to wear the tracker for 30 days. All of the participants kept their trackers on for the entirety of the study and many asked to see their data at the end. Many asked to continue wearing the tracker in order to hold themselves accountable. While this study saw much of its success due to participants’ desire to recover from their addiction, the researchers saw the promise for dealing with addiction in the future. The team is working on detecting differences in drug signatures in habitual users versus first time users. Additionally, they are working on combining physiological data— which could detect when a person becomes stressed, for example—with GPS data to predict where a person is traveling. Together, the trackers can help develop an algorithm which could identify when a relapse is likely to occur and send a notification to a loved one or doctor.