The March of the Addict

Baltimore uses PDAs to pinpoint where recovering drug users decide to relapse


Stuart Bradford /

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Researchers in Baltimore are studying drug use and addiction in their city by arming recovering drug users with PDAs, according to a story on Urbanite’s website (March 1, 2011). “I had this idea,” says Kenzie Preston, the lead investigator, “that when people were using drugs they had certain patterns of places they went, and when they stopped as part of treatment, that pattern would change.”  

The addicts enter information into their handheld devices when they get an urge to use drugs again, including those psychological factors that might lead to relapse, such as stress. The researchers track the participants through GPS within the PDAs, and those geographic patterns are plotted on maps of the city that contain other data, such as race and the socioeconomic status of different neighborhoods.  

“We are getting a good description of what drug use looks like in individuals in real time and how it maps onto physical space,” says one of the researchers, David Epstein. He and his colleagues argue that figuring out where a person is when he decides to use drugs is more important than knowing where he is when he actually uses them, because the former is the time and place to intervene.

cover-166-thumbnailHave something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader