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Young Suboxone Users Are About To Get High-Tech Help

By McCarton Ackerman 06/13/16

Mobile app MySafeRx is designed to give young adults structure and support during buprenorphine treatment. 

Young Buprenorphine Users Are About To Get High Tech Help

When it comes to buprenorphine therapy for opiate addiction, research has shown that young adults have a harder time sticking to treatment, and many end up relapsing. To address this, addiction treatment specialist Dr. Zev Schuman-Olivier developed an integrated mobile system, MySafeRx, to ensure that patients—especially young people—are taking buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone) daily at home without missing a dose.

MySafeRx combines the convenience of a smartphone app with the security of a tamper-proof pill dispenser. The MySafeRx Android app allows patients to connect with a mobile recovery coach via videoconference for a daily check-in. Then, to release the patient's daily dose of buprenorphine from the Medicasafe pill dispenser, the recovery coach releases a unique access code to the patient's smartphone, which the patient uses to unlock that day's buprenorphine dose from the pill dispenser. At the end of each day, the recovery coach sends a status update to the patient's prescriber, to let them know the daily dose has been taken.

Schuman-Olivier told that the MySafeRx system is a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to having a recovery coach in person. “The empathy from another person can be very helpful in recovery,” he said. “But it would be too expensive and time-consuming to have a person drive to the patient’s house every morning.” 

A 2014 study by Schuman-Olivier, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, found that compared with older adults, people ages 18-25 are much more likely to drop out of buprenorphine treatment and relapse. According to the study, after one year, only 17% of young adults were still in treatment compared to 45% of older adults. Young adults were more likely to continue using opioids in the first three months of treatment.

Schuman-Olivier noted that MySafeRx can be especially beneficial during the first two months of treatment, which are the most crucial.

Right now the system is still in the testing stages. Schuman-Olivier will conduct two pilot studies—funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse—that will focus on adults between ages 18-34 who have been prescribed buprenorphine but continue to use opioids, to see just how well MySafeRx works to keep young adults on their buprenorphine regimen compared with people receiving standard buprenorphine treatment. If the pilot testing goes well, MySafeRx may soon become commercially available.

“If we can do something to help people adhere to buprenorphine treatment during the high-risk time of early recovery and get to abstinence even for a month or two, it gives them a chance to get a hold over the power of opiate addiction and get a good foothold in recovery,” said Schuman-Olivier. “With nearly half of all adults dropping out of buprenorphine treatment within a year, this really has the potential to provide the extra level of support that is needed during high-risk periods of treatment.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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