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GPS for the Recovering? Researchers Studying Behavior Through Mapping

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National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) researchers are studying whether additional clues to the environmental factors associated with addiction can be uncovered by tracking addicts' whereabouts through GPS technology, CNET News reported April 21.

Researcher David Epstein and colleagues are studying Baltimore heroin addicts in methadone maintenance treatment, and so far have tracked the daily activities of two of the subjects. Using a GPS provided to the addict to track motion and then a PDA on which the individual can periodically record feelings, stressors and drug use behaviors, the team found that one addict used drugs mostly on the relatively rare occasions when he was in impoverished areas of the city.

Looking ahead to the potential implications of this research, Epstein said, “You can have an intervention that on-the-spot warns people about where they are going based on data about neighborhoods in general and their behavior specifically.”

Epstein believes that another advantage of the technology lies in the ability to obtain more accurate details of real-time behavior by addicts — data that become skewed when they are collected many days after the fact through addicts' self-reporting.

Epstein presented details of the research at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

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