Doctors Says: AI Can Help Fight Opioid Addiction

Artificial intelligence and machine learning could be a key aid in ramping up efforts to stem the overdose crisis, according to an American doctor and researcher.

Lisa Latts, deputy chief health officer for IBM Watson Health in Colorado, was in Vancouver last week to share her findings on how AI technologies are being used to better understand the complex web of factors behind issues like substance use.

“Opioid addiction crosses socioeconomic status, it crosses racial lines … it crosses borders,” she told StarMetro in a phone interview. “Almost everybody knows someone who’s been affected.”

Last year, 366 people died of an illicit drug overdose in Vancouver, while more than 1,400 overdose deaths occurred province wide, according to a report from the B.C. Coroner’s Service. Opioid use was involved in the vast majority of these deaths.

“As we look back, a lot of (how the opioid crisis has progressed) has to do with changes and guidelines in the physicians community around our need to do a better job controlling pain,” she said.

In April, federal NDP health critic Don Davies called for a federal investigation into the role manufacturers of prescription opioids may have played in driving the opioid crisis. Davies said pharmaceutical companies may have misled Canadian physicians and patients regarding the addictive potential of opioid pain medications like OxyContin.

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