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Addiction Therapy at the Touch of a Button

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 6:32 AM AKDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - There’s seemingly an app for everything these days, including hacking the mental elements of drug addiction.

“We can’t be available to our patients 24-7,” said Bruce Goldman, senior director of behavioral health at Zucker Hillside Hospital on Long Island, “the app is.”

The hospital began prescribing reSET-O as part of a pandemic pilot program, now the app is a standard care option.

“Very pleased to say it’s worked remarkably well,” said Goldman

reSET-O -- which offers lessons for coping with cravings, self-tracking of triggers, and gift card rewards for progress and sobriety -- is paired with buprenorphine, a medication used to wean patients off opiates. Its built on a cognitive behavioral therapy foundation, the same clinical approach used by many clinicians for in-person therapy.

Goldman said the app’s greatest impact is keeping opiate use disorder patients engaged along their path to recovery and in treatment. Unlike medications, the reSET-O does not pose complications from side effects.

“Greatest [possible] downside is [patients] won’t use it,” he said. Goldman said they leave it up to patients whether to give the app a try. More than half ask to stay on it.

reSET-O is the only program of its sort to earn FDA approval for treating opiate addiction. Experts said a handful of products offer similar promise.

“These digital treatments can provide care that is sometimes as good as or better than clinician delivered therapy,” said Dr. Lisa Marsch, a researcher with Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine.

But, Marsch said most of the 200 wellness and therapy programs hitting digital marketplaces every day can’t make similar claims about effectiveness. She said given the ever-changing space and evidence, clinicians can lean on regulators and benefit managers to distinguish between bogus and beneficial apps.

Marsch said the distinction is critical to proper care to ensure, “you’re actually getting a clinical grade intervention via software.”

Marsch said retaining patients is critical to helping patients kick addiction, noting evidence that programs like reSET-O do just that, doubling chances of success. Rewards for progress can be an effective tool providing speedy positive reinforcement. The usual benefits of getting clean are rarely instant.

Most apps focus on providing lessons or guidance, and don’t need a constant internet connection.

Newer efforts could analyze patient’s social media and health data to predict when a patient is at risk of relapse and intervene. “There’s a really strong proof of concept in that space right now,” Marsch said.

Advances in digital options promise even better results, but practitioners and researchers say no tool can force an unwilling patient to get clean.

The Gray T.V. D.C. Bureau tried to connect with multiple patients to learn more about their experiences with apps like reSet-O but could not find one willing to talk. App store reviews show users reporting mixed impressions.

reSET-O recently launched a new partnership with the Ninilchik Village Tribe in Alaska. And, the state of Ohio recently announced that it has agreed to cover the program for some communities.

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