Terry Boult knows a Breathalyzer can be beaten. He knows because his brother had done it numerous times.
Rory Lewis knows recovering addicts need a support network. He knows because he lost his daughter to heroin. He has no idea where she is.
Working together at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the two are drawing on their heart-wrenching experiences to develop a new technology cool as a smartphone app. The goal: Give patients a mobile lifeline to medical professionals and the friends and family who support them and who steer them away from trouble.
The final product will be a phone application that, as the men see it now, would aid recovery on two fronts. It would verify that the user is sober by randomly challenging them with games that, for example, measure reaction time. It would act as a pocket support group by keeping them connected to others who would be watching out for them.
Games on the application would make it almost impossible for the user to take a first drink, or a first hit, without someone else knowing. They would pop up randomly on the phone and could measure anything from a person’s reaction speed, to their alertness, to their depth perception.
If the user failed a game, the app could respond by preventing the car from starting, or alert medical supervisors, or call a family member. The application also could track the user’s movements and send alerts if, for example, a recovering drug addict entered into the neighborhood where they used to buy drugs.
The social networking part of the application would be similar to Facebook and its friend networks, Lewis said. Users would connect with medical professionals who have helped them in the recovery process, as well as with other patients.
“Of course at any time someone can throw (the phone) away,” Lewis said, “but it’s not as tempting to, if they have a group of people behind them who are watching them and congratulating them when they haven’t had a drink in three days.”
There’s also evidence that addicts recover better when they are helping others. That’s another reason for connecting users who are in more advanced stages of recovery with those who are just beginning the process, he said.
Boult and Lewis began developing the application in the fall of 2007 with help from UCCS students in the Bachelor of Innovation program. Since then, most of the research and development at UCCS has been funded by a $150,000 National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation and Research grant.
As the project evolved, Boulder-based entrepreneurs Joe Morelli and Scott Tibbitts joined to develop the application’s marketing potential for addiction rehabilitation and recovery. In June 2009, the two men, along with Steve Bassett, a graduate of the innovation program, started Syberenety. The Colorado Springs-based company works on the business, testing and marketing side of the project while Boult, Lewis and students continue to develop the science behind the technology. Plans are to launch the tool in spring 2011.
Bassett said they hope to sell the application to rehabilitation and recovery facilities who would give their outgoing patients the application during their first year or two on their own.
“Sobriety is a fragile thing, it doesn’t last,” he said. “We want it to be a permanent part of people’s life.”
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