Case Study: Washington University School of Medicine

Saving Lives by Providing Crucial Content & Resources to those with Opioid Addictions: A Case Study with the Washington University School of Medicine and iTether Technologies

Challenge

The rates of opioid addiction in Arizona have risen to alarming levels in the last few years, with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declaring it both an epidemic and a statewide health emergency during the summer of 2017. The U.S. isn’t faring any better in this area, either. In 2017, Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) released a report revealing the number of its members who had been diagnosed with an opioid addiction had skyrocketed by nearly 500% in a seven-year span. There’s no question that this issue has become a public health crisis and is claiming far too many lives in Arizona and in the greater U.S.

Investigators Connecting Health and Social Media (iCHASM) is a research team led by Dr. Patricia Cavazos-Rehg, clinically-trained & licensed psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The iCHASM team wanted to address this problem, and find ways to recruit those suffering with an Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) into treatment, while simultaneously increasing their odds of recovery. But, the team had to first identify this at-risk group and then find a solution that would help them understand their recovery options, have access to them and be interested in pursuing them.

Solution

First, iCHASM relied on its expertise in social media to recruit and study >300 participants who met the criteria for an Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Nearly all participants (99%) had abused more than one type of opioid in the past month and over half (53%) used ≥3 different opiates. Heroin was the most commonly used opiate (65%) followed by oxycodone (50%). Two-thirds of these participants were not engaged in treatment (67%), and a similar majority expressed the belief that their drug use was problematic (65%).

Next, iCHASM selected a strategic partner in iTether, the cloud-based platform, seeking to improve substance abuse recovery rates through delivery of evidence-based outcomes. The two entities engaged in a pilot program that supplied vital health information on evidence-based treatment recovery options for OUD. The team developed modules within the iTether app based on SAMHSA’s handbook, “Decisions in Recovery: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.”

The content delivered targeted information about the most effective medication-assisted treatment (MAT), how they work to assist recovery, their costs, research findings about their efficacy and potential side effects. iCHASM and iTether also used the iTether platform to disseminate video testimonials from people in successful OUD recovery that had used these medications as part of their recovery journey.

Results

iCHASM and iTether’s pilot program included 30 participants who were struggling with an OUD which lasted 3 months. The feedback was very favorable, with 80% of participants agreeing that the iTether app helped them have a better understanding of their OUD recovery options.

iCHASM and iTether have since enhanced the app with even more features meant to increase recovery rates, including:

  • The ability to chat with board-certified counselors within the app.
  • An easy-to-use treatment provider locator for users to find the nearest opioid treatment centers.
  • A social networking functionality to facilitate online and private networking between researchers, online counselors/coaches, patients, and/or peers.

After the success of this pilot program, iCHASM and iTether are eager to continue their work together and play a key role in moving Arizona and the greater U.S. away from the opioid epidemic that is claiming so many lives.

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