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GPS obsessed

18 August 2012

Breaking the Addiction

By James Neely/Guest Author

Much has been made of the ability of GPS tracking units to monitor paroled criminals or to help convict suspected criminals by pinpointing their location at a given time. Lawyers handling drug cases, for instance, can use GPS tracking devices placed in a suspect’s car to follow that suspect to suppliers, making the apprehension of the entire drug ring possible. Now, a new study being conducted by David Epstein of the National Institute on Drug Abuse seeks to attack the problem from the other direction by determining whether GPS tracking data can help drug users break their addictions.

The study follows 25 heroin addicts by giving them GPS tracking devices and asking the participants to answer questions sent to them via PDAs to determine where they are when they use drugs. Each participant must sign a consent form in order to be involved in the program. Epstein hopes to determine how environment plays a role in addictions and to use that information to help addicts break the cycle of addiction.

GPS tracking devices can give much more information than simple location. They can also record how long a person stays in one place, what direction he is currently traveling in, and the speed at which he is moving. All of this information can prove vital when trying to determine how a person’s location influences the actions he takes. By transmitting location data every 25 meters or every 25 minutes if the carrier is standing still, the GPS unit may indicate whether a person always relapses in the same neighborhood. If so, that information could be used to help recovering addicts better plan their movements in order to avoid pitfalls.

Drug addiction has long been considered a neurological disorder, and Epstein’s study does not seek to displace that idea. If his findings conclude that relapses often occur in particular types of neighborhoods, the GPS tracking devices his participants carry could be a jumping off point for helping not only drug addicts, but also recovering alcoholics to avoid places that could cause them to relapse.

The war on drugs continues to fight battles for the health and well-being of countless drug users and those at risk for using drugs. With the help of GPS tracking, significant strides may be made toward creating a program that helps recovering drug addicts take control of their lives by making choices that will increase their chances of success.

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