CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ (DHHR) Office of Drug Control Policy recently announced a free smartphone app to reduce isolation and offer support resources to West Virginians with Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
The Connections app will allow treatment providers across the state to stay connected and engaged with their patients.
“Over the past few years, we’ve made tremendous progress in our fight against the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. We’ve given people struggling with addiction real hope and access to opportunities like never before,” Justice stated via a press release from DHHR. “But, as we’ve had to separate from each other to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it’s been really tough on those who may truly need the support of others to stay on a path toward recovery.
“We need to do everything in our power to keep helping these people move forward in their lives, not backward. That’s exactly what this app is going to allow us to do.”
According to the press release from DHHR, the app, developed by CHESS Health of Rochester, NY, is an evidence-based mobile application designed and proven to provide ongoing support and relapse prevention to people recovering from SUD. Features of the Connections app include group discussions, peer support and socialization, one on one messaging with a care team, recovery progress tracking, and eTherapy programs for learning and practicing key recovery skills. Individuals use an alias name to maintain their anonymity within the online communities, which will only include other West Virginians.
Kim Miller, director of Corporate Development for Prestera Center, said that Prestera was one of the original pilot locations to study the effectiveness of the CHESS app.
“The CHESS pilot included our clients in outpatient services receiving medication-assisted treatment services,” Miller said. “Our experiences with the smartphone app CHESS have been very positive and we are excited to be able to offer it free of charge to our clients during the emergency.”
Miller said apps like CHESS help to provide additional support to individuals in recovery when their usual support system is not available. Miller said Prestera plans to bring the CHESS app back to their clients.
Currently, Prestera is primarily providing their services by telephone and telehealth connections.
“This innovative tool is important in helping West Virginians reach their recovery goals,” said Bob Hansen, executive director of the DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy via a press release. “The Connections app will allow residents in recovery to stay connected with supportive peers and their care team when they can’t attend in-person treatment and AA meetings.”
“In the midst of a pandemic, it is vital that we quickly enable a strategy for individuals in SUD treatment to maintain the connection and support they desperately need for ongoing recovery,” stated Dr. James H. Berry, chair of West Virginia University’s Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, via a press release. “On behalf of treatment providers across the state, we appreciate the rapid response of Governor Justice and DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy in bringing this needed technology to West Virginians.”
The Connections app will be available, at no cost, to individuals through their treatment provider and to those in recovery who are no longer affiliated with a provider.
Providers and individuals in recovery wanting information about access to the Connections app or CHESS Health Platform can visit https://helpandhopewv.org/index.html.
Kayla Hawthorne contributed to this report.