Nearly one-third of Americans suffer from chronic pain, and in the last two decades, opiod prescriptions have tripled in the country.
Virtual reality may be be able to help.
Researchers at Simon Fraser University believe a virtual reality program may help people with addictions and the application could extend to those dealing with chronic pain, too.
When patients leave addictions treatment programs, friends and family worry that they will fall into the same triggering environment, causing a relapse, according to Faranak Farzan, a professor at SFU and chair of Technology Innovations for Youth Addiction Recovery and Mental Health. But immersive VR can predict how a patient might react to certain environments and shed light on how to prevent people from succumbing to addiction again.
VR has already been shown to reduce drug dependence by those suffering from chronic pain, studies show, such as recovering burn patients—but more research is required into how the technology can help those suffering from more long-term pain, suggests Diane Gromala, Director of the Pain Studies Lab at SFU.
Virtual reality seems to offer two benefits: first, it can act as assessment tool to gauge a patient’s proneness to relapse; and two, it can be integrated into part of a treatment, both for rehabilitation scenarios and as a drug-free alternative to pain relief.
At the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington, researchers are working on similar projects. Founded by US Air Force veteran Tom Furness, whose experience with virtual reality extends back to military applications in the 1960s, the lab considers VR to be experimental therapy, a newer way of distracting patients from their troubles.