By Sy Mukherjee
September 14, 2017

In a milestone, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday green lit the first-ever mobile medical app to help treat people with substance use disorders (SUDs). The Reset device is designed by Pear Therapeutics and now cleared to assist in outpatient therapy for alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and stimulant addiction—although it is notably not permitted for treating opioid dependence.

So just how does an app assist in addiction therapy? The Reset device has both a patient and clinician element to it, and it provides a form of treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy. That might mean helping SUD patients learn practical skills to help keep them abstain from the drugs they’re abusing and stay with their rehab programs. It’s not a standalone treatment, though—it’s supposed to be used alongside outpatient addiction therapy and an incentive-based system which rewards patients for staying clean and adhering to recommended treatment.

Clinical studies underscored the digital health technology’s promise. More than 40% of patients who used the Reset system in addition to standard therapy abstained from alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and stimulant substance abuse over a three month period, compared with 17.6% abstinence for those receiving standard therapy alone, according to the FDA.

A growing number of digital health firms and biopharma giants are embracing the idea of using mobile apps as medical add-ons to bolster conventional drugs—or even replace them altogether. For instance, startup Omada Health has a tech-based diabetes prevention program that uses an online support community and digital scale to keep people at risk for the disease healthy enough to avoid it. It’s been effective enough to win federal reimbursements.

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