While drugs like buprenorphine are very effective at helping to treat opioid addiction, some patients can become dependent on their prescribed treatment, making it difficult for them to ever fully stop using the medication. To help support patients undergoing opioid detoxification, researchers at Boston University School of Public Health are developing a multifunctional smartphone app.
Approximately 1.5 million Americans seek help for their opioid addictions each year, some of whom enroll in a treatment program to overcome heroin or prescription opioid abuse. While treatment options can help these patients discontinue opioid use, few resources exist for those in recovery who wish to come off buprenorphine and other opioid alternatives.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded Dr. Michael Stein, of the Health Law, Policy & Management department at Boston University, and his colleagues at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), a $414,000 grant to help develop the app. To help patients manage their detoxification symptoms, the app – named OFFBup – will provide educational and self-monitoring tools.
Patients who have been taking buprenorphine or methadone for long periods of time may benefit from the app’s detoxification timeline, which explains the symptoms of withdrawal and when they can occur. The app’s tracking tool could also keep patients motivated by allowing them to see their progress in the detoxification process.
The research team plans to work with patients who are discontinuing buprenorphine use to develop the app within the first year of the NIH’s two-year grant. Their goal is to get the app into the hands of patients at Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, in the second year of the project.
According to Stein, the app will be “a resource that patients can access anytime and anywhere. Buprenorphine is an effective treatment, but at a certain point—either out of personal preference, because they no longer want to take a medication, or necessity, because they can’t afford it—treatment comes to an end. Because we know there are significant side effects to stopping buprenorphine, we think OFFBup will help people get through these and remain drug-free.”