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Drug Treatment Enhanced by Technology

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Researchers all over the world are utilizing technological devices to screen, counsel and connect with people seeking drug treatment, e! Science News reported Jan. 21.

Treatment research programs that use cell phones, computers, and the Internet as tools for treating drug use were showcased in a special January 2009 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.

Using a novel email program, THRIVE (Tertiary Health Research Intervention Via Email), researchers from Australia and New Zealand, led by Jonathan Hallet of Curtin University, screened over 7,000 university students. Hallet and colleagues found that 34 percent of the students screened positive for unhealthy drinking.

Sylvia Kauer and her team at Murdoch Childrens' Research Institute (Australia) asked students to record information about their alcohol use, activities and mood by using their cell phones. Over half of the participants self-reported drinking alcohol, and students in the “school-based” group reported studying less and sleeping more on days they drank, compared to days they didn't drink. Another study group of “at risk adolescents” reported lower moods on days they drank.

Online counseling provides “after-hours” accessibility and engages “typically hard to reach populations,” noted Amy Swan, a researcher from Turning Point in Melbourne, Australia.

James Balmford and colleagues from the Cancer Council in Victoria also developed an internet-based screening and brief intervention program for smokers, called QuitCoach, and found that the majority of their users tended to be “female and were younger than smokers in general and those that used the QuitLine telephone service.” CounsellingOnline, a live online chat style counseling session, was also noted in the journal for bringing over 33,000 visits to the site, and facilitating more than 2,000 live counseling sessions.

“Drug treatment is keeping up with the rest of the world in terms of use of the Internet and computers for treatment,” said Associate Professor Nicole Lee, who co-edited the special issue. “The number of people that use the Internet to access information means these interventions can reach large numbers of people who may not ordinarily come into treatment.”

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