In 2016, more than 16,000 people died from an opioid overdose related to a prescription drug. That’s more than 46 people every day.
Much of the opioid crisis in America isn’t rooted in street drugs like heroin but in legal, prescription drugs. As the healthcare system scrambles to find new ways to treat patients without opioids, technology companies are stepping in with alternatives.
Seattle startup 2Morrow Inc. on Wednesday announced the latest tech alternative for pain relief: An app that draws on behavioral psychology to help people manage chronic pain. The app uses the same scientific foundations as 2Morrow’s smoking cessation and weight loss programs.
The app was developed by 2Morrow researchers, along with Dr. Kevin Vowles, a clinical psychologist and pain expert at the University of New Mexico. It uses the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help patients cope with pain, an approach that has been studied extensively.
Each day, the app’s users will unlock short programs that help them manage pain and the anxieties that come along with it. The app isn’t like most of the ones we use on smartphones every day — it’s designed to engage patients through a long-term program that they engage with constantly, not something they open when they feel pain.
The program’s focus is to help users set manageable goals and learn how to live with pain instead of trying to eliminate it, which normally isn’t possible for chronic patients.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center clinical psychologist Jonathan Bricker, whose work formed the basis for 2Morrow’s smoking cessation app, described in a past interview how app staples like push notifications and gamification can keep users engaged and encourage them to stick to their treatment plan.
2Morrow says the apps’ users can expect a higher quality of life and that the app could lower “pain-related anxiety, pain-related medical visits, and number of classes of prescribed analgesics,” or pain medications.
The app isn’t a replacement for opioids, but rather a new tool in a physician’s toolbox. The CDC recently recommended chronic pain sufferers use three treatments to manage pain: Non-opioid medications, physical therapy and behavioral therapy. The app fills that behavioral therapy need without patients needing to see a counselor or therapist.
“I think of apps as really allowing behavior science to have a renaissance,” Bricker told GeekWire on a past episode of its Health Tech podcast. “You carry a smartphone with you all the time, so here’s an opportunity to be able to reach someone with useful skills for staying motivated, for dealing with cravings, or dealing with habits that are not helpful to them.”
The app is now available to health plans, employer groups and healthcare providers to offer to their members. 2Morrow said the cost of the program would be covered by the organizations who choose to use it. It won’t be open to the general public, but the company is allowing 200 people to freely register for the program as part of its launch.