As the trackers collect more data, Behaivior’s algorithms will search for additional patterns that predict opioid use, some of which researchers may not even be aware of yet. “Not only are we making a device to make life better and help solve a problem, but there’s a chance for some really useful scientific discoveries in that process,” says O’Shea. “There are monitors out there that can tell you when drugs or alcohol have been consumed, but they can’t tell you how to prevent consumption from happening. So these wearables would be the first proactive tool that treatment centers could deploy.”
For its efforts, Behaivior has been granted admission into IBM’s Watson AI XPRIZE, a three-year competition in which one winning team receives $3 million. “We just submitted our first round progress report, and we should know later this month whether we’ll be accepted into the second round,” says O’Shea. “We’re hoping we’ll get there. We’re confident.”
State Rep. Dan Miller’s Policy Crusade
“People are dying,” says state Rep. Dan Miller, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 42nd district. A member of the Pennsylvania Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Caucus and the co-sponsor of several bills designed to increase access to treatment and pave easier paths to recovery, Miller has emerged as one of Harrisburg’s most vocal advocates for families grappling with addiction.
“In my opinion, the number one problem plaguing the state’s recovery efforts is access to more treatment,” he says. “We need more beds. We need a larger effort from Harrisburg to ensure that those who wish to be in treatment can get treatment. Waiting lists should be a thing of the past. The answer to ‘Where are the treatment beds?’ can’t be ‘in the Allegheny County Jail.’”
It’s a conversation that Miller’s trying to start in the state capitol. He, along with Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), is sponsoring House Resolution 76, which removes a federally mandated driver’s license suspension for people convicted of drug offenses. He’s working to establish a process for certifying “sober houses” and establish the Pennsylvania Project Lazarus Commission, which would work to develop a best practice model for comprehensive, community-based overdose prevention efforts. And in his district, he’s hosting a substance abuse forum called “Challenges to Recovery” on November 29.
“We’ve had some great events in our area that I would consider to be great first steps — you know, awareness-level discussions. But what I wanted to do was design an event tailored to the actual problems that people come to us about and that address each piece along the road to recovery,” Miller says. “Is it very important for you to know how much Narcan was used last year? Well, it’s not bad information to have, but I don’t mind if you don’t remember that number. But what I want you to know is, if a problem comes up, here are the things you can do.”
“That,” says Miller, “is what ends up saving lives.”
Sojourner House’s Panel Discussion
A panel discussion hosted by this week by Sojourner House, POWER and the Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh gave the public a candid look at what life after overdose looks like. “Inside Out: Mothers Who Have Survived Overdose” brought together local leaders and women in recovery to share their perspectives on the opioid epidemic and its impact on women and mothers. (Women are the fastest-growing segment of substance users in the United States, with an estimated 2.7 million women suffering from addiction.)
Beyond overcoming addiction itself, those in recovery often face several additional challenges, says Cyganovich. “When someone comes in and has a criminal history — even if they’ve been clean for a year or two — sometimes employers are hesitant to hire them. Landlords are the same way: if a person has any kind of a criminal history related to abuse, they’re blacklisted. And if you have a felony, you can’t qualify for public housing.”
Cyganovich hopes that events such as the panel discussion will help make life-saving education more widespread and accessible, both for women in recovery and their communities. “We’re trying to help people recover in a way that doesn’t stigmatize them, so they can get their lives back on track and keep their families together,” she says. “These women want to be there for their kids. They want to be there for weddings and graduations. They want a better life. And I see it happen — recovery works. There’s hope out there.”