Technology is meeting the increased demand for treatment options available to people dependent upon opioids.
Ohio State University developed a free application for Android phones called “Squirrel Recovery” – a social media tool for addiction support.
Brad Lander, PhD, an addiction medicine specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, administers medication-assisted treatment to people dependent upon opioids and he helped to create the “Squirrel Recovery” app.
Understanding people who get addicted
A few years ago, the most common way Lander saw that a person would become dependent upon opioids was from going into prescription pills.
“Now we see a lot of people going straight into heroin. Mainly because of its availability,” said Lander.
He said there’s a lot of different reasons people become addicted to heroin, but there are two groups of people who get addicted.
One group is the recreational users.
“The other group is what we call self-medicators. They have depression, anxiety, they have pain, and they get medicated for it, and they just feel better than they ever have. They just want to get that relief and feel that again, so they use on and off and it gets to be a habit pretty quickly.”
Lander said sometimes a person will think that they will only try heroin once.
“No one goes into it expecting to get addicted,” said Lander.
To Lander, the disease of addiction isn’t something that people are born with. He said there’s no such thing as an addictive personality type.
“There’s no character traits that’s associated with addiction. But as people get into addiction and get addicted, they get more alike. They get more self-centered, care more about their own needs, and when you get them through counseling they get back to who they are,” Lander said.
When he is working with a person in treatment and recovery, Lander said, “I feel like I’m doing an exorcism.”
Most of Lander’s patients are people dependent upon opioids or recovering from opioid dependency. He said he has seen success with the “Squirrel Recovery” app in treatment and recovery for opioid dependency and addiction.
“The app can record and monitor a patient’s mood, stress level and urge to relapse. In the event of an emergency, addicts can use a one-touch panic button that contacts the entire support team for instant counseling,” said Lander.
Lander sees patients for detox, partial hospitalization, intensive in-patient, standard out-patient in individual and group counseling for chemical dependency.
Building a support group
He said the 10-person support team is programmed into the “Squirrel Recovery” application by the person using the application and allows the person to have 24/7 access to support.
“They pick out 10 people they can trust. A lot of times with residential treatment it’s people they have met at the treatment center. A lot of times it’s a family member, but we encourage them to use people in the same situation. That creates a network of support,” said Lander.
The “Squirrel Recovery” application is free and available to Android users. Lander said the i-Phone version will launch any day.
“If I’m in a state where I’m feeling like I’m going to relapse, I’m in a bad place, I’m at a party or I’m going to relapse, you can hit a button and it sends an automatic that you’re in trouble and need help,” said Lander.
The message would be sent to those 10 people the person trusts in the support group. He said having a supportive team of people a person can trust will help recovery.
Lander said the apple version will have a GPS function that will tell people the person’s location.
Doing their best
Lander worked in veterans’ administration hospitals before moving to Columbus. Once there, he began to develop his career in working with people who have addictions and said he loves to do what he does.
“Everybody is doing the best they can. If they would do better, they would. It’s extremely rewarding because people have this view that treatment doesn’t work. I’ve been doing it 30 years—that may have been true then, that’s just not true now.”