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NIH Supporting App That Helps Opioid Therapies

Heroin powder

Heroin powder (Drug Enforcement Administration)

11 July 2017. A company making game-style mobile apps to help therapies for opioid and other substance abuse is receiving R&D support from National Institutes of Health. Pear Therapeutics Inc., in Boston and San Francisco, was awarded a $180,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from National Institute of Drug Abuse, an agency of NIH.

The funding supports development of a new Pear Therapeutics’ mobile app to supplement treatments with the drug buprenorphine and cognitive behavioral therapy for opioid use disorder. Opioids work by reducing the intensity of pain signals to the brain, particularly regions of the brain controlling emotion, which reduces effects of the pain stimulus. Examples of leading opioid prescription pain medications are hydrocodone, oxycodon, morphine, and codeine. Heroin is also considered an opioid.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the country is in the midst of a “prescription opioid overdose epidemic.” In 2014, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, and at least half of those deaths involved a prescription opioid, with even more becoming addicted to prescription and illegal opioids. Heroin-related deaths also increased sharply, more than tripling since 2010, leading to more than 10,500 deaths.

Pear Therapeutics offers a mobile app called reSet that encourages adherence to medications and supports outpatient therapy for substance abuse, with a version of the app called reSet-O designed for opioid addiction. The company says the apps’ efficacy was shown in 5 clinical studies involving more than 1,500 participants. The results, says the company, show the apps improve clinical outcomes and help participants retain their therapies anywhere from 12 weeks to 12 months. The current apps have not yet been approved for marketing in the U.S.

The NIH award supports development of a new mobile app called Options and Outcomes. The new app is patterned after reSet, but adds more mechanisms to better engage participants than the current program, comprised mainly of narrative text. Options and Outcomes is envisioned as a role-playing game, where participants interact with the main characters, analyze their decisions, and apply key concepts taught during the game. One of those key concepts is the importance of sticking with buprenorphine treatments.

In the first part of the project, Pear Therapeutic will create a prototype of Options and Outcomes for testing in the second phase. That second phase will include a small-scale clinical trial assessing Options and Outcomes for patient engagement, learning, and efficacy.

The company is partnering with CleanSlate Research and Education Foundation, a not-for-profit organization connected to CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Centers for conducting research on addiction. The Substance Use Disorders division of Columbia University Medical Center is also collaborating on the project. The award is a fast-track grant from NIH, with a completion date of 31 December 2017.

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