Episode 8 - Technology to Take on the Opioid Crisis
Technology to Take on the Opioid Crisis
When I look at my iPhone or open up my laptop, I’m like most people going to Facebook. But unlike most people, I’m not spending very much time checking in with my friends or searching for the latest products I can’t do without. I’m watching the posts of families in Facebook groups that I belong to that are expressing profound grief, sadness and despair over losing a loved one to overdose or their own personal struggles with addiction. I belong to those groups because my daughter Laura overdosed and died two years ago after struggling for 15 years battling heroin, opioids and meth.
Addiction, driven in large part by the opioid crisis, is killing many of our young people at an alarming rate, decimating rural communities who lack access to treatment, costing our economy over a trillion a year, and ruining the lives of millions of families nationwide. After processing my grief over the loss of my daughter, I decided to do something about it using the technology my company built over the last 8 years that has served countless businesses who sell services through independent sales agencies.
In my business career, I’ve become aware of technologies that are transforming medical healthcare making it easy and affordable to monitor patients in their home, have telehealth doctor visits and transmit vitals to the cloud. I decided that it was time to see if my company’s technology could also transform addiction and mental healthcare and change the trajectory of how we extend care, monitor people struggling with the disease, improve how people recover and start to reduce those rising death rates.
The treatment industry has to find a way to make a shift and leverage technology the same way that medical healthcare has. There are too many patients and not enough therapists to keep up with everyone that needs help, patients need better ways to access treatment remotely, the cost of treatment needs to go down, patients need to be connected to treatment longer and our understanding of the disease needs to change.
So, this year I created InterAct LifeLine, a technology company that partners with treatment providers to accomplish all of those things. Beyond that, we support the very successful collegiate recovery communities so they can automate themselves and serve the growing number of students that need their help. In a little less than a year, we’ve been able to transform the technology we have used in the business marketplace and launch successful pilot programs in collegiate recovery and addiction treatment. Here is what we are doing and why it is works.
InterAct keeps people connected longer. The research is clear. If you stay connected to a treatment program for at least six consecutive months, the chances are that relapse will go down. Why is this critical? The relapse rate after a 30-day stay in rehab is around 85% in the first year often in the first couple of months. There are a lot of reasons for that alarming statistic, but the main one is that although addiction is a chronic disease, but we treat it like an acute one. That means that once the patient looks good after rehab, we release them without a good way to have the longer-term treatment plan that they really need.
So how does InterAct’s technology keep people connected? Technology provides programs with portal technology that automates many of the processes that staff would be required to do to run an extended care program. Let’s take a look at how that works.
First, we help programs provide structure and accountability for their clients once they have left a residential setting. When you go to treatment, your day is planned for you. Your meals, therapy sessions, group meetings and even down time is scheduled, and frankly, there is a lot of comfort and security in not having to make those decisions when you are fighting to get healthy. But when you check out, that structure goes away leaving the person to make those decisions, fend for themselves and lose the accountability that is so helpful in staying healthy.
InterAct’s technology offers personal calendars where the program or the individual can add commitments like meeting with their sponsor or recovery coach, going to an AA meeting, or showing up at work. Text reminders are sent multiple times before each calendar event and the system can ask for the person to “check in” so they know that the program cares and is holding them accountable. Having a schedule seems simple, but for someone trying to recover, this level of structure is often quite difficult.
Our technology promotes connections to community. Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful and long-standing group organizations in the world. Collegiate Recovery Communities produce higher GPA’s & graduation rates and astoundingly low relapse rates among their participants. Why is that? The answer is that being connected to support communities is a vital component for addicts to stay healthy.
Knowing that, how does technology make it easier for programs to keep their participants connected? There are many times people just can’t or won’t make it to a face to face meeting. The live too far away, don’t have the right transportation, or may be overly anxious about meeting others face to face. That’s where technology comes in handy because all you need is a connection to the Internet and a smart phone to get connected to community.
InterAct provides virtual support groups with guided discussions over webinar technology. Portals have offer online discussion forums for people to ask questions, share solutions, and get help. And for collegiate recovery programs, we are building a national directory of program alumni so they can get in touch with each other, no matter where they live.
Our technology automates the processes of reaching out and checking in. The staff at any program don’t have enough hours in the day to sit down and call everyone, text them or check in one by one. That’s where InterAct’s technology comes in. Our portal system can send out reminders to login or show up for meetings automatically. We create simple questionnaires that people can respond to that let a program know how they are doing. The technology can even score those responses and alert the team if there are issues that need to be addressed.
And that brings us to education. It is so vital that people understand not only the disease but the ways you can maintain your health. If you have heart disease, you are educated to modify your diet, your exercise and change many things about your lifestyle. Do those things and your chances of dying from a heart attack drop dramatically. The same thing applies to the importance of education in addiction. Once you understand the disease, you can create a nutritional and exercise plan, use mindfulness and meditation to reduce anxiety, and learn how to treat other disorders like depression that often go hand-in-hand with the disease.
InterAct is built for education. We have created an extensive online content and education library, with information collected from the best resources out there, carefully organized by subjects to make things easy to find. Every program that works with us has a portal that is connected to the library for a continuous feed of great information. And portals don’t wait for people to come look. The system automatically alerts you when there is an interesting article to read, a video to watch, or an e-book to download with links to go right to it.
And then there is help for the family. I’m particularly passionate about this because having a family that’s involved, educated about their role in the recovery process and healthy themselves after being in a battle they didn’t choose dramatically improves how their loved one and the family recover. Our technology delivers a robust family support program that is turnkey for the program that has our solution.
Portals provide education not only for the patient, but for their family. Virtual support groups and discussion forums keep families connected for ideas, strategies and help. InterAct partners with telehealth organizations to provide connections to family therapists or psychiatrists so families can start to heal and repair their family systems. And we’re partnering with professionals to create an online family assessment tool to give that family more insight into where they need help.
So, how will we know if this is working or not? Technology can help give us the answers. So many programs don't have the time or resources to follow up on their patients to understand how effective they are. Keep a patient connected longer-term and you have a much better understanding of your results. Our technology is data driven. We record how often you visit the portal and what content you interact with. We know if you checked in to appointments, how you answered your questionnaire, or if you read your messages. That data can be compiled and used to produce outcomes studies so programs can adjust and get better.
And it doesn't stop there. We are now working on a partnership with a well-known fitness tracking company to take data continuously out of wearables that track your steps and your vitals, scrub that data, and use it to monitor your recovery health. Imagine being alerted if someone is going into overdose, knowing where they are, and getting help in time. Imagine understanding your stress levels and proactively being able to reduce them. Or what about monitoring your sleep patterns so you can get the rest you need. All of that data is out there, and we will repurpose it so we keep people safer and healthier.
In 2020, we will use the same technology with its monitoring and tracking capabilities, power to connect people to community, educate them, and the ability to detect overdose and launch SafetyNet, a prevention program for parents and adolescents. 1 in 10 students develop the disease before they leave high school, but it’s entirely preventable if you are educated, know the risk factors and take steps to prevent it.
Technology alone can’t solve the opioid crisis, but it can make a profound difference. We believe in partnerships and providing this important weapon to the programs and treatment professionals that are in the fight every day. Look at the impact technology has had on medical care and just imagine what it can do for people trying to recover from addiction. Then ask yourself: What if we can provide treatment to more people and keep them connected longer? What if we can bring families into the process and help them heal at the same time? What if we can monitor your vitals and better protect you from overdose?
I ask those questions every day and wonder what if I had had those tools for my own daughter. Perhaps she wouldn’t have been one of those statistics and she would be at our Thanksgiving table and opening her Christmas presents. InterAct is dedicated to make sure that more families can spend the holidays together so it’s a time of joy and not one of grief and regret.