Is digital health tech a solution to substance use disorders?

There is increasing pressure on healthcare providers to address substance use conditions.

Taking into account factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and a fluctuating macroeconomic environment, GlobalData forecasts that by 2028, total prevalent cases in the 16 major pharmaceutical markets (16MM: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the US and the UK) for opioid addiction will surpass eight million.

Also, it is projected that 770 million people will become addicted to alcohol, and 360 million people will start smoking.

A substance abuse disorder may result in long-term negative health effects and even lead to death. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one in eight deaths in the US could be linked to excessive alcohol consumption between 2015 and 2019 [1].

Substance use disorders are being treated with more effective technology

While several well-established pharmaceutical treatments are available for smoking cessation, opioid use disorders and alcohol abuse, there is still a high need for more effective treatments.

GlobalData’s Medical Device Pipeline Analytics indicates that 61 healthcare IT products are being developed to treat substance abuse disorders.

A variety of indications are treated by these devices, including opioid use disorder and cannabis cravings, neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) and nicotine addiction.

It is expected that 27 of the 37 clinical trials and 24 in early stages of development will be approved by 2025. This is out of the 37 in clinical trials and 24 in early stages of development.

Substance use disorders are being treated with more effective technology

Tracking symptoms and managing diseases are made easier with wearable technology

According to GlobalData’s Medical Device Pipeline Analytics, there are at least 17 wearable medical devices in pipelines for the treatment and monitoring of substance abuse disorders.

A wearable neurostimulation device, such as Spark Biomedical’s Roo Therapy System, is designed to treat NOWS.

A patch delivers electrical pulses in and around the ear, and a smartphone app monitors treatment outcomes remotely.

Due to the absence of a standard of care for the condition, the FDA designated the device a Breakthrough Device in December 2020. GlobalData anticipates the device to receive full regulatory approval in July 2023.

Apps for mobile health (mHealth) can deliver evidence-based treatments

Generally, mHealth apps collect patient data and track disease progression. Although they can also be used to deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions through digital therapeutics (DTx).

It is estimated that at least 22 mHealth apps are currently in development for patients with substance use disorders. These will need to be approved by regulatory authorities.

For instance, Continuous Precision Medicine’s CPMRx is a mobile app designed to assess the use of pain medication by women after caesarean surgery [2].

The FDA expects to approve the app by February 2026. It tracks usage and provides personalized schedules to reduce pain and increase compliance.

Healthcare organizations are increasingly utilizing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies

Innovative interventions are increasingly being delivered by VR and AR in the healthcare industry. A number of VR or AR devices are being developed for treating substance use disorders as an emerging treatment option.

BehaVR’s Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement Therapy delivered over Virtual Reality (MORE-VR) is a digital health tool to assist patients with opioid use disorder [3].

An opioid treatment program uses VR headsets to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to patients receiving buprenorphine.

With BehaVR’s merger with OxfordVR and Series B funding round, the tool could provide a novel therapeutic for opioid addiction.

Substance use disorders and digital health technologies

With the increasing number of patients with substance use issues , digital health technologies will provide further opportunities to improve their treatment and management. Currently, mHealth apps, digital therapeutics (DTx) and IoT are the focus. In addition, emerging technologies, like robotics and the metaverse, could provide future treatment options [4].


Photograph: AnnaStills/Envato
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.