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Is data and technology the answer to treating addiction?

As the opioid epidemic continues to grow and spread throughout communities, even large tech companies are getting in on the fight to stop addiction.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is opening a “data-driven” addiction treatment center in Dayton, Ohio in summer 2019. The company’s health and science arm, Verily, announced the new center in February, saying that the company felt compelled to act to fight one of the worst epidemics the country has ever seen. The new program marks one of the largest investments into fighting the opioid epidemic by a private company.

Verily selected Dayton Ohio as the originating location because it is located near the Appalachian region, one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. The company has teamed up with local health providers, including Kettering Health Network and Premier Health, to offer a full range of services to patients. In addition to its investment in the program, Verily hopes to invest in the Dayton community, providing important revitalization that may also help slow the epidemic in the area.

The new nonprofit addiction treatment program, called OneFifteen after the estimated 115 people who die each day from opioid overdoses, will feature a 32,000 square foot facility that is currently under construction as well as additional buildings in the future. The program will include patient services and wrap-around community-based services all geared to treating substance abuse disorder and opioid addiction. The program will take all patients, regardless of insurance coverage.

Data-Driven Care: Data and Addiction

In preparation to open the center, Verily has compiled large amounts of research on opioid addiction. They hope to use this research to create a “learning healthcare system” that offers insights on addiction using data and algorithms.

Patients at OneFifteen will be carefully tracked throughout their care and into sobriety with surveys, laboratory testing, and other measurement tools. Using the computing power behind Google, this data will be taken from electronic health records and carefully analyzed on a continuous basis. It is the company’s hope that this data will reveal what techniques are most effective at treating addiction and helping people stay sober.

A Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Program

While it’s unclear how the data will work to improve care, the program’s comprehensive nature is likely to support long-term sobriety. The program will offer intensive inpatient treatment, outpatient therapy and also housing and vocational training for patients. This additional care may help patients get back on their feet after treatment, increasing the changes of maintaining abstinence even when integrating back into their everyday-lives.

All of these services will be housed in a single campus, making it easy for patients to receive the care they need while making it easier to track data. Patient outcomes data becomes much harder to collect once patients leave inpatient care, so a more centralized campus will give the program a great opportunity to continue to follow patients.

Can a Data-Driven Approach to Addiction Work?

Data is already a large part of addiction treatment. To achieve licensure, accreditations and certifications, addiction treatment centers must follow evidence-based treatment. Many centers currently use standardized American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria to assess what level of care patients need. These criteria are based on years and years of patient outcome data.

However, while many healthcare providers and addiction treatment centers strive to use evidence and data to guide their care, it can be difficult to implement in real time. It is difficult to measure sobriety rates once a patient discharges. The longer they are out of care, the more difficult it is to monitor. They facilities do not have the manpower or technology needed to keep in touch with patients years after discharge.

Backed by the finances and power of Google, Verily hopes to take the data-driven approach further than it has ever gone before. They will be using more advanced machine learning and algorithms to provide up-to-date, rapid analysis and to make changes to their treatment program as needed. This still does not address five or even ten years down the road.

Until the program launches, it is difficult to know how successful the company will be. This is a first-of-its-kind project that hasn’t been tested by the real demands, regulations, and ethics of the healthcare industry. Change on a large scale can be difficult to achieve quickly, especially when dealing with health and the potential impacts that the changes could have on vulnerable patients.

It’s also important to note that data can sometimes be difficult to use to assess complex human behavior and needs—and addiction is incredibly complex. Research has consistently shown that addiction is a result of an underlying emotional issue such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or other issues. Although science can be a valuable tool to monitor other important health indicators, addiction needs to be addressed on an emotional level. You cannot successfully treat addiction without taking into account the individual experiences and needs of each patient.

At Harmony Place, we are excited about Google’s data-driven approach to care. We hope that it sheds new light on the opioid epidemic, revealing new information that can change and improve addiction treatment for patients across the country. We believe that their investment is well-placed and could help change the future of care.

After years of providing care to hundreds of patients, we still feel an individualized approach is best. Each patient needs a combination of support services, from medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapy, to yoga and acupuncture, to find long-term wellness and sobriety. We strive to give each patient the tools and treatments they need to achieve long-term abstinence in their own way.

At Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, California, we provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for addiction treatment and recovery with many addiction treatment program options, including our Medication Assisted Treatment program. Contact us today at 1-(888)-789-4330 to learn more about our services and how you or your loved one can prepare for a successful rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction at our California treatment center.