Digital health tool to target drug and alcohol addiction in rural and regional areas

Clean mate: Brian Hill.
Clean mate: Brian Hill.

A DIGITAL health tool with the potential to help people overcome a drug or alcohol addiction from the “first motivated moment” is being developed by a team in the Hunter and Central Coast.

Brian Hill, an occupational therapist and founder of digital health innovation company Laughing Mind, said they hoped CleanM8 would give people in rural and remote regional areas quick and easy access to supported addiction recovery.

“Rehab services only really exist in a select number of metro or regional locations,” Mr Hill said. “When you look at the methamphetamine problem around Australia, for example, you can see it is really hitting regional towns the hardest.”

Mr Hill said he had recently learned of the experiences of a judge in Dubbo who, in the absence of having a local rehab facility for addicts, said his only choice had been to incarcerate.

“It means people who would otherwise benefit from treatment are just going to jail,” Mr Hill said.

“If a big regional centre like Dubbo doesn’t have it, you can be assured small towns don’t have it.”

The CleanM8 concept has won the Regional Australia Institute’s Lightbulb Moments competition for its potential to assist those recovering from an addiction, as well as their clinicians, nationwide and even globally.

“It is still very much a work in progress, it’s still in the concept development and design stage, but it’s nice that we’ve had that validation and recognition,” Mr Hill said.

The “therapeu-tech” aims to assist with three stages of the addiction cycle, but particularly that all-important first phase.

“We want to be able to help people from that first motivated moment when they say, ‘I need to do something different,’” he said. “That’s often the point they might call a rehab facility, and find out there is either no service available, or any service that might be available will have a six-to-20-week wait.

“That has an immediate demotivating impact, which is going to drive a sense of hopelessness.

“We want to develop a reasonably simple tool that can keep people in these areas focused on some goals until they can get into a clinical setting or rehab facility.

“We know it won’t be as good a match as on-the-ground, face-to-face help, but it is certainly going to be better than nothing, which is what these communities are facing now.”

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