Using advanced Machine Learning (ML) techniques on nearly 1.5 million Reddit posts, researchers, including one of Indian origin, have identifed risks associated with self-treatment for opioid addiction.
These clinically untested, self-directed treatments are often created and promoted through online discussion communities like Reddit, where their use is encouraged without professional medical consultation, said the team from Georgia Institute of Technology.
“Along with identifying what potentially are the most commonly used alternative treatments, we documented a number of important trends and gained valuable insights into how people use alternative treatments,” said Stevie Chancellor, PhD student at Georgia Tech College of Computing and chief author of the study.
According to the study, the top three most commonly used alternative treatments are Kratom — an unregulated herbal stimulant, Imodium — a common anti-diarrheal medication and Xanax — a psychiatric medication used to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
The treatments offer potentially substantial side effects and high chance of abuse for those struggling with recovery.
One of the key trends documented among the alternative treatment users is the growing use of “stacks” or “kits.”
These combine several substances – prescription drugs, illicit drugs, over the counter (OTC) medications, vitamins/minerals or other substances – to combat withdrawal symptoms and facilitate recovery.
“We found that Imodium, commonly used to relieve nausea and diarrhea, is often referred to as ‘lope’, which is short for the active ingredient Loperamide. We also confirm that it is prone to misuse and dependence,” said Chancellor.
“Because there is little empirical research into alternative treatments for opioid use disorder, professionals overseeing detoxification and behavioral interventions are at a disadvantage,” said Munmun DeChoudhury, assistant professor at School of Interactive Computing and co-author of the study.
“Broadly speaking, we’re interested in reducing the harm that can be caused by alternative treatments,” DeChoudhury added.