Virtual reality weaning addicts off drugs

Ke Jiayun
Shanghai's drug rehabilitation administration notes that VR treatments over the past three years have led to an over 70 percent decline in takers' desire.
Ke Jiayun

Eight months of virtual reality treatment over the past three years has left more than 70 percent of about 1,000 drug takers with a decreased desire for drugs, according to Shanghai’s drug rehabilitation administration.

VR tools help evaluate how strong the desire is and then provide measures such as imitating the illusions and bad consequences people have after taking drugs, for example, serious diseases like herpes and deformation of the limbs. The drug users are also shown how their habit can destroy families. Only after they use a virtual "hammer" to crush drugs on a table, do their warm and loving families return.

The addicts were also asked to wear a set of intelligent devices to record their physiological data which is used by rehabilitation centers to customize therapies.

The administration said sports therapy for addicts had also had good results. Last year, 120 drug takers in poor health were given exercises like jogging, cycling, strength training, basketball and aerobics. Improvements were noted in their body mass index, and heart, lung and cognitive functions. There was also a drop in their negative emotions. 

The administration surveyed more than 6,500 people who had undergone rehabilitation treatments and had been released into society between 2015 and 2018 and got back 5,752 responses. About 77 percent managed to stay away from drugs for one year but only half could still make it after three years.

The local prison administration is also involved in drug rehabilitation. So far there are more than 3,000 criminals involved in drug-related crimes in local prisons, accounting for over 15 percent of the total. Since September 2016, local prisons have found that over 22 percent of criminals guilty of drug-related offences were addicts. 

These prisoners have been in drug rehabilitation through programs involving medical care, education, culture and arts and labor. Each has his or her own medical record and is able to attend classes from primary school to college in prisons. They can also learn vocational skills and develop other interests.

Local prisons have also launched a tough crackdown on drug crimes behind bars.

Last year, officers at the city's prison for newcomers noticed that inmate Hua was behaving abnormally and seized methamphetamine and marijuana in his bag. Officers found all the drugs Hua had hidden and extra penalties were imposed. Nanhui Prison also noticed prisoner Wu's abnormal behavior during a talk and Wu confessed he had participated in producing drugs in Guangdong Province and reported his accomplices to officers.

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