A team of research scientists at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has been awarded a five-year grant worth $2.5 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to determine if a cell phone application can reduce the relapse rate in people with opioid use disorder.
Andrew James, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UAMS Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine, is the principal investigator in the study, which will develop a cell phone app to prevent relapse among people receiving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. The app will provide study participants with daily brief interventions, such as positive messages of reinforcement, in an effort to prevent them from relapsing or returning to opioid misuse.
“While MAT is one of our best treatments for opioid use disorders, approximately half of patients relapse during the first year of treatment,” said James. “But smartphone apps that provide daily brief interventions have been shown to reduce smoking and alcohol misuse. We believe these same principles can also reduce opioid misuse among patients receiving MAT.”
The participants will continue to receive MAT. They will undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to understand how the brain changes during recovery from addiction. The cell phone app, which James hopes to begin using by the end of this year, will also contain a GPS to detect when patients enter “hot spots” or personalized areas that could potentially lead to a relapse, such as areas where they once used or purchased opioids.
“The patient will tell us where their hot spots are, and we will program the app to tell us when they go into those areas,” said James. “When they do, they will get some form of intervention, maybe it’s a phone call from a sponsor or a text from a family member. The goal is to immediately get them out of that area before they relapse.”
Collaborating with James on the study are Clint Kilts, Ph.D., and Keith Bush, Ph.D., of the Brain Imaging Research Center, along with Ron Thompson, Ph.D., Mary Bollinger, Ph.D., and Michael Mancino, M.D., of the Department of Psychiatry. James Selig, Ph.D., an associate professor in UAMS’ College of Public Health, will monitor statistics provided by the app, which is being designed in collaboration with Deborah Hasin, Ph.D., of Columbia University.
James sees the app as a preventive measure that could benefit those in a primarily rural state like Arkansas with limited resources for those battling substance use. “We’d like to scale it out remotely to anyone in the state. We think it will be a positive form of intervention for people dealing with opioids.”