New Smartphone App Attempts to Tackle Heroin Addiction

By May Wilkerson 08/13/15

The Squirrel Recovery app emphasizes the importance of a constant, personalized support system.

Squirrel Recovery App
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Could smartphones help heroin addicts stay sober? Brandi Spaulding, a doctoral intern at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, certainly thinks so.

Spaulding teamed up with a group of computer science students to develop a new free app which connects addicts to a 24-hour support team and helps them manage urges. She came up with the idea after seeing her stepfather and other loved ones struggle with addiction when she was growing up in Marion, Ohio, a small town that, like many others across the U.S., is battling a heroin problem.

“Drugs and alcohol nearly destroyed my life as a kid, and now I’m watching heroin tear apart so many families in my hometown,” she said. “I knew I needed to do something to help.”

The app, called Squirrel Recovery, is based on a model of recovery that emphasizes the importance of a constant, personalized support system.

“No matter what issue you are battling, a strong social support system is critical to succeeding,” said Brad Lander, an addiction medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “The best thing about this app is not only that it’s free, but that it literally puts help at your fingertips, day or night.”

Throughout the day, the app prompts addicts to rate their mood, urges, and stress levels, and shares this information with a support team of 10 people who constantly monitor and track their progress. App users have 24-hour access to the support team and a panic button they can press in case of emergencies.

To help ward off possible relapse, the app asks addicts to preprogram times of day when they are most likely to be tempted to use, and sends them encouraging notifications at these times. It also features testimonials from people in recovery to keep people motivated, and rewards periods of sobriety with coins.

A huge benefit of the app is that it is free and accessible to anyone with a smartphone, though for now it is only available to Android users. “I noticed many addicts who came into our facility seeking treatment used smartphones, regardless of socioeconomic status,” writes Spaulding. “While smartphone access is readily available among most addicts, access to treatment facilities is not.”

There are an estimated 86 million Americans struggling with some form of substance abuse, but only about 14,500 drug treatment facilities in the country, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, leaving millions without access to proper care.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.