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Mobile App for Opiate Addicts Wins at MIT Grand Hack

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Winners of the "Best Mental Health Hack" include (L to R): Carmine DiChiara, Gabriel Martinez-Santibanez, Emily Lindemer, Tara Adams, and Vinny Valant. (Not pictured: Josh Feler)

At this year's edition of MIT's Hacking Medicine "Grand Hack," a team of researchers led by Emily Lindemer, a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, was awarded the "Best Mental Health Hack" for their Hey, Charlie mobile app for opiate addicts who are in recovery or are seeking recovery.

Lindemer, who has had someone close to her suffer from opiate addiction, knows that environment is a major hurdle for recovering addicts. “It’s hard to get out of the environment you started using in when you come back from rehab,” she explained. “And you’ll be at risk of using again if you’re with the people you started using with.” After crowdsourcing advice from the Recovery Subreddit, Lindemer and her team of UX designers, engineers, and a clinical psychologist came up with an app that, at its core, does two simple things—blacklists the numbers of people who might thwart recovery, such as dealers or other addicts, and highlight the numbers of people who are positive influences.

Lindemer felt strongly about giving the app users total sense of autonomy in their decisions. “There are so many programs out there to support recovering addicts, but I feel like they’re all just missing the mark just a little bit,” she says. “There’s a lot patronization of recovering addicts.” 

Hey, Charlie makes a concerted effort to differentiate itself from other more patronizing products. It does not block numbers, but rather, should the user attempt to text a person on the blacklist, the app will simply ask “are you sure you want to do this?” The app also features a reward system that congratulates users for not texting people on their blacklist, and prompts that encourage users to enrich positive relationships.

When it comes to opioid-dependency prevention and recovery, the team observed that there is an essential component to recovery that formal healthcare and rehab clinics cannot provide. That being said, they're looking to assist people in their transition toward a more positive, healthier, and connected social environment.

Following their Grand Hack success, Lindemer and her colleauges plan to partner up with local treatment facilities to find the target personas to pilot. Lindemer said that the app does not use any sensitive patient medical data, and that will no doubt dramatically speed up the process of getting it out to people’s hands.

They want to start the process by reaching at least 240,000 of the approximately 2 million people who deal with opioid-dependency in the US, with an initial focus on the Massachusetts population. The relapse rate is ~90% for individuals in recovery for heroin addiction so Hey, Charlie is poised to help provide the community and support that these people need to remain successful in recovery.

These are the goals of their initial five-year plan and the team is currently finalizing the feature list and scoping how long it’ll take for developers and designers to build the app. They're also looking into funding avenues through state government, the NIDA, and VC firms. 

Adapted from Abigail Ballou's original article: https://medtechboston.medstro.com/blog/2016/05/03/15946/