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Never alone

Heroin addiction has become an epidemic in the United States.

Between 2002 and 2013, heroin abuse skyrocketed, with the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the same period in the Midwest, heroin-related overdose death rates multiplied by almost eight times. And in 2016, the United Nations World Drug Report found that heroin use had risen still further in the United States, reaching the highest level in 20 years.

An application for Android smartphones, developed by computer science students working with Brad Lander, a psychologist and clinical director of addiction medicine at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, can pave the way for a smoother recovery from heroin addiction.

Intern Brandi Spaulding was inspired to develop Squirrel Recovery: Addiction after she saw her hometown of Marion, Ohio, torn apart by widespread heroin use.

Squirrel Recovery: Addiction is based on the idea that support from friends, family members and counselors is the most crucial component in recovery. When addicts feel supported, and when there are people to hold them accountable for their choices, recovery is more likely.

To a recovering addict, the app is like having a counselor in his or her pocket at all times — or, rather, several counselors. And the counselors are real people whom the addict already knows.

How it works

The Squirrel Recovery: Addiction app, free to download from Google Play, allows a person in recovery to input up to 10 names of family members, friends, counselors or other trusted supporters. The app then figures out what the recovering person’s triggers are: times and situations during which the likelihood of relapse is especially high. At those times, the app sends a notification to all the contact persons so they can call or text the person in recovery to offer support.

In a time-sensitive, urgent situation, the recovering addict also can push a panic button that sends a message immediately to the entire support circle: “I need help, and I need it now.”

The app also tracks mood and level of desire to use heroin, noting trends that occur over time. Plus, it tracks accumulated days of sobriety and provides symbolic rewards for reaching milestones. It features motivational stories and testimonials from former addicts, showing that recovery is possible.