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App Created for New, Pregnant Moms in Opioid Recovery

Maria Manriquez

Maria Manriquez (Sun Czar Belous)

26 Mar. 2019. A smartphone app is being developed to help pregnant women and new mothers with an opioid addiction, by a medical professor and health care technology company. A prototype of the smartphone software by iTether Technologies is a recent winner of first-round funding of $10,000 in a challenge competition conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Pregnant women and new mothers have special needs when confronting opioid use disorder. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in July 2017 spells out the full scope of the crisis beyond overdose deaths, with some 2 million Americans age 12 and older addicted to prescription opioid drugs and another 600,000 addicted to heroin. Overdose deaths from these drugs so far in 2019 number more than 130 per day, according to National Institute of Drug Abuse.

“Pregnant and parenting women who are in the process of recovery have so many issues to deal with,” says Maria Manriquez, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Arizona medical school in Phoenix, in a university statement. “Even with coordinated care, such as medical homes, a huge gap exists. This is especially prevalent when part of the ‘prescription’ includes medication, obstetric and addiction medicine visits, counseling, support groups and learning new material such as cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.”

Manriquez and colleagues at University of Arizona are partnering with health care software company iTether Technologies, also in Phoenix, to design the app. The iTether technology aims to keep people with addictions in outpatient treatment connected to clinicians for guidance and support. The need for treatment is even greater when the patient is a pregnant woman. The March of Dimes cites data showing the rate of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — in effect, withdrawal symptoms because of exposure to drugs during pregnancy — almost tripled in the last decade, from 1.2 to 3.4 per 1,000 births.

The iTether app for this population connects to a secure portal that provides a link between the clinician and participant during therapy. The portal also offers educational content, including streaming video, in Spanish and English that supports participants’ treatment programs between visits to the clinic, or when they can’t visit the clinic. “Often, patients have transportation or child care limits that restrict reliable and quality care,” notes Manriquez. “It is not easy as a full-time parent, employee, or student to make and keep appointments, especially when there is no coordination in timing of visits for someone with a chronic disorder.”

Addressing Opioid Use Disorder in Pregnant Women and New Moms is one of 4 grand challenge competitions held by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau in HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration. The iTether app is among the 10 first-round winners dividing a $100,000 prize pool. The first-round winners are now asked to further develop and test their solutions through July 2019.

Manriquez believes the prototype app can have benefits beyond its initial users. “The prototype could benefit the community,” she says, “by setting guidelines and developing standards that help providers deliver consistent messaging to patients.”

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