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Google, Facebook and Twitter have partnered with the nonprofit Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) to launch Tech Together (TechTogether.co), an online platform to offer support to individuals with substance use disorders. The site is a collection of resources to help those experiencing substance use disorder or battling addiction and the associated stigma.
Many of these people have lost their 12-step meetings and other in-person resources during coronavirus social distancing practices. Tim Ryan, star of the 2017 A&E documentary “Dope Man” and recovery advocate for the treatment resource Rehab.com, said that the resulting isolation from shelter-in-place orders has created conditions that are ripe for substance abuse.
“Covid-19 has cultivated an environment that lacks accountability and visibility, which allows people to engage in drug and alcohol abuse while in isolation,” Ryan said.
Given that Alcoholics Anonymous alone has over 66,345 groups in the U.S., totaling more than 1,361,800 members, the closure of most groups will leave large numbers of people in recovery looking for resources. Prior to Covid-19, a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Harvard, showed 2.5 million U.S. adults already using online technology to aid in their recovery, and report that interventions incorporating online technologies led to further recovery success.
Now is the time where there is an urgent need to help those struggling with addiction. The data already bears this out. According to an Earnest Research study published in The New York Times, alcohol sales are up 25% nationally. Meanwhile, officials in Florida, Ohio and New York have all reported upticks in overdose emergency calls and overdose deaths since March.
“We know Americans are consuming more alcohol alone,” said Marjorie Clifton, executive director of CSIP. “Additional stress and a lack of support community is disastrous for people in recovery.”
By partnering with Facebook, Google and Twitter for Tech Together, the nonprofit CSIP is now part of a group that provides a single online destination for those suffering from addiction.
Resources for addiction recovery
“This platform offers a one-stop location for families or individuals looking for support or resources they need at any stage of substance use disorder,” Clifton said. “This site is in partnership with numerous national non-profits who are involved in recovery efforts and includes a collection of technology tools and resources provided by Twitter, Google and Facebook – to help share information and put tools and communities in front of people looking for support.”
Clifton said that the site will be promoted on Twitter, Facebook and Google, and once users find it through those services, they’ll discover a large number of resources to help them or their loved ones find treatment options.
“There are screening tools by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as part of the National Institutes of Health and health treatment locator tools by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,” she said. “The Twitter community has also partnered with Unity Recovery, Reconnect, Alano Club of Portland and SOS Recovery Association to provide community support and recovery meetings.”
Each company makes its unique contribution to Tech Together. Twitter offers such hashtags as #RecoveryMovement, #OpenRecovery, and #RecoveryWorks, so those suffering from addiction can join discussions with others in similar straits.
“Twitter is a powerful tool for connecting people in recovery to online resources and to each other, especially during this pandemic,” said Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s senior public policy manager. “It also facilitates, in real-time, a global, public conversation around this vital topic.”
Facebook, meanwhile, offers crisis support over its Messenger tool and through Facebook Live sessions. It also hosts Facebook Groups for those with substance use disorder. Liza Heyman, Policy Programs Manager at Facebook, said that Facebook Messenger is being used to share resources with those who need them, such as the Center on Addiction.
“The Center on Addiction is using Facebook Messenger as one of their main methods to take incoming from people looking for support,” Heyman said. “They have trained social workers interacting with live people through Messenger in the same way they take incoming through text and phone.”
Facebook said that use of the Messenger platform increased by more than 50% between February and March in countries that had been most affected by the virus.
As for Google, CNBC spoke with an employee named Shawna who is in recovery and asked to have her last name omitted to preserve her anonymity. She said that Tech Together is using Google’s relationships with such nonprofits as Transforming Youth Recovery, Young People in Recovery, and the Center on Addiction, to aggregate recovery meeting locations, thereby providing clear pathways to treatment.
“There are people finding recovery during this time, and it is inspiring,” she said. “Any barrier removed from people seeking help is a good thing.”
Tech tools in times of crisis
It remains to be seen if online meetings can provide the same level of support as those that take place in person. Anna David, the author of the addiction memoir “Party Girl” and publisher at Launch Pad Publishing in Los Angeles, has been in recovery from cocaine, alcohol and pills for almost 20 years. She said that for her, online meetings have, in some ways, been more effective than those she’s always attended in person.
“What’s happened for me personally is that my willingness to, as we say, ‘work a program,’ has grown exponentially,” she said. “When I was new to recovery, I was willing to go to meetings across town where you have to be an hour early to even get a seat. Over the years, that willingness abated, and I started just doing what was convenient. Well, now I can log into those meetings, without battling L.A. traffic and hear some of the most brilliant speakers I’ve heard in 20 years.”
She added that while she’ll be as happy as anybody for shelter-in-place requirements to be lifted, she doesn’t necessarily see a need for the online meetings to end.
“I know this sounds crazy, but I am already a bit nostalgic for Zoom meetings,” she said. “I know they’ll go away when life returns to normal, and there’s been something so special about the experience of connecting with other sober people in this bizarrely intimate way.”
For now, many of those who want help appear to be able to find it through Tech Together and other online resources. Recovery advocate Tim Ryan of Rehab.com said that over the six weeks between early March and late April 2020, Rehab.com had seen a 393% increase in treatment seekers and a 285% increase in providers, over the same period in 2019. He also added that resources are available to those who may have never sought treatment before, but now suspect they may need to. He outlined some behaviors to look for in those who may need treatment.
“If you’re missing appointments or work commitments because of frequent and debilitating hangovers, have prolonged feelings of not wanting to connect with others, even virtually, are using substances as your primary mode of escape, are spending a large portion of your financial reserves on drugs and alcohol, even if you’ve experienced economic loss, or feel like you need to have drugs or alcohol to feel ‘normal’ — these are all signs that you have a problem.”