Ohio's Opioid Technology Challenge has reached its final stage. The multi-year contest set aside $8 million with the hopes of spurring technological solutions to the drug crisis.
Four winning proposals were announced Tuesday morning, with each receiving $1 million to develop their idea for the commercial market. The winning companies are Boston-based DynamiCare Health, Brave Technology Coop from Vancouver, Massachusetts-based Prapela, and Cleveland's University Hospitals.
DynamiCare's winning proposal revolves around a mobile app that aims keep those recovering from addiction on the wagon. The app connects users to appointments, records, and drug testing, while encouraging them along the way.
“People can actually earn rewards for staying sober and staying in treatment,” says Dynamicare CEO Eric Gastfriend. “We do substance testing through the app, using connected breath testing devices and saliva testing devices over selfie video.”
The app offers GPS check-ins for appointments, group therapy and AA meetings. Meanwhile, rewards arrive on a “smartdebit card” that blocks access to bars, liquor stores and cash withdrawals.
Gastfriend says more than 100 randomized controlled trials show this sort of reward system is one of the most effective ways to treat addiction, but it’s rarely used.
“If this was a drug it would have been approved by the FDA 50 years ago," he says." Why hasn’t it been adopted? Well, for one thing, I think there’s an issue of how do you pay for it.”
The money can come from the patient’s families, employers or health plans. Gastfriend says he’s seen a number of the latter get on board.
“It’s actually cheaper for health plans to help someone stay sober through rewards and incentives than to pay for all the downstream medical costs that result when someone isn’t staying sober,” Gastfriend says.
Gastfriend calls addiction "a brain disease focused on incentives," and his company approaches it as such.
“Addiction causes changes in the brain that result in focusing on short-term incentives," he says. "And the benefits of staying sober are all in the long-term: You’ll regain your family, your trust, your job, your livelihood. It’s hard for people in the grips of addiction to be able to focus on that."
DynamiCare worked to remedy that by creating a short-term incentive so that each day holds a reward for staying sober. Over time, Gastfriend believes, that will make the difference.
“Eventually, those short-term gains turn into long-term sobriety,” he says.
Other winning proposals include a Brave Button, developed by Brave Technology, which would be installed in the home of a person dealing with addiction. Activating the button would send a request for supervision or support in response to an overdose or another emergency situation.
According to a press release from the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, Brave has opened an office in Columbus and is currently working in Franklin and Hamilton counties.
Prapela won its prize for developing a small mattress for newsborns with opioid addiction. The Concord, Mass. company says delivering a gentle, random vibration will help replace the baby's rapid breathing and irregular heart rates, without forming a habit or disrupting their sleep.
University Hospitals in Cleveland also developed an app, UH Care continues, that looks to create a "safety net" as patients transition from the hospital back into their communities. The hospital system estimates that the app has stopped the flow of 12,000 opioid pills in just eight months.
The Opioid Technology Challenge launched in October 2017.