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UAMS Researchers Get $2.5M for Opioid Abuse-Fighting App

2 min read

A team of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences researchers has been awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant to determine if a smartphone app can reduce the relapse rate in people with opioid use disorder.

The grant was awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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.

His team, in collaboration with Deborah Hasin of New York’s Columbia University, will use the money to develop an app to prevent relapse among people receiving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.

The team hopes to launch the app later this year. It will provide study participants with daily brief interventions, such as positive messages of reinforcement, and the participants will have MRI screenings to help researchers understand how their brains change during the study. 

The app will also contain a GPS component to detect, with patients’ help, when patients go to places that could trigger a relapse. Some form of intervention, such as a phone call or text message from a sponsor or family member will follow.

“While MAT is one of our best treatments for opioid use disorders, approximately half of patients relapse during the first year of treatment,” James said in a news release. “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.”

He sees the app as a preventive measure that could benefit people living in rural states with limited substance abuse treatment resources. 

“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,” James said.

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