In the wake of the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, many are scrambling for solutions to this major public health issue. One of the largest problems facing people who suffer from drug addiction is relapse. Chris Pesce, the Chief Operating Officer of Sober Grid, understands this clearly. “Close to 90% of people relapse within a year,” Pesce says. “[Addiction Treatment] is wasted unless you give people the tools they need to stay sober, and those tools are continued support, because this is a chronic disease.”
Providing an easy means of accessing a peer support network is exactly what his company, Sober Grid, does. Sober Grid is a mobile application for both iPhone and Android that works similarly to a social media platform exclusively for sober people. Sober Grid currently has over 44,000 users, and is free to download — although there is a $3.99 premium subscription that has additional profile features, like the ability to upload more photos.
Sober Grid aims to help people stay sober once they’ve begun recovery by allowing them to connect to other sober people in their area. People can connect using Sober Grid’s GPS system, which finds other users nearby. Users can directly message people on the app and visit their profiles, as well as post publicly on the Newsfeed, which functions similarly to a Facebook or Twitter newsfeed. Treatment centers can also use the app by paying to create private alumni groups for people who have graduated their programs. The app is designed specifically to make users as comfortable as possible, and allows users to remain anonymous if they choose.
Additionally, when users find themselves in desperate need of help, they can activate the special “Burning Desire” feature. This indicates to other users that you’re in need of help, or someone to speak to. They can then message you privately, or can search for other users nearby to see if anyone can lend a hand.
“We know that programs of peer support—the concept of peer support—works to get and help people stay sober,” Pesce says. “The problem that we’re addressing is that there are barriers to accessing this support where and when people need it. We’re trying to get rid of those barriers and enable people to reach out for support immediately where and when people need it . . . even directly from the comfort of their own home.”
Pesce notes that mobile applications are especially useful for reaching out to younger people. “The youth demographic lives in the mobile space,” he says. “This is something that they’re comfortable with.” He also points out that the younger people using Sober Grid tend to skew more towards drug addiction, and that many of them are suffering from opioid and heroin use.
Sober Grid has reached out to the state governments of both Massachusetts and Delaware, and is trying to partner with them in order to encourage people to join the grid once they’ve left treatment, as well as to increase the number of treatment centers subscribing to provide alumni groups. Further, Sober Grid was recently selected to participate in venture fund Launchpad Digital Health’s accelerator program, and will be working with them over the next year.
Pesce emphasizes that technology is the future to keeping people on the right track with their addiction. “We’re really leveraging technology to put this simple solution in as many people’s hand as possible,” Pesce says. “It’s wonderful that so much energy is being put on really tackling this crisis. People are really taking ownership of a medical condition that they struggle with.”
Casey Nugent is an editorial intern for MedTech Boston. She’s currently working on her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. Outside of working at MedTech Boston, Casey enjoys drinking coffee, going to the theater, goofing around with friends, and hanging out with dogs.
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