A Pilot Test of a Mobile App for Drug Court Participants

Researchers provided a small group of post-adjudication offenders in an outpatient drug court program with smartphones and a recovery-support app to examine its potential for helping people with substance use disorder (SUD) achieve and maintain recovery. 

The 2015 pilot test, which took place over four months, monitored 30 participants in Massachusetts as they engaged with the A-CHESS app. The app offered recovery information, a self-help meetings list, audio recordings about recovery, interactive communication tools, such as 24/7 messaging and facilitated discussion boards, and assessment and feedback tools.

Participants — mostly male, white, and between the ages of 18 and 34 — received standard clinical treatment along with access to the app. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) funded the pilot test. 

Treatment and monitoring are critical components of drug court programs, and researchers saw opportunities for mobile technology to support both areas, filling the gaps between counseling appointments, reinforcing skills learned in treatment, and providing immediate access to social or professional support. 

Researchers set out to test whether this population, drug-court participants who were already closely monitored, would be willing to use a tool that would require them to share even more information. To find out, participants’ use of A-CHESS was monitored and tracked, including when they logged in and how often, the app services they used, the length of time they used the app, and whether or not they sent messages. 

They wanted to know if an app that provided continuous, on-demand support would be perceived as useful by this group, and if so, how they would interact with it. 

At the end of the four-month trial period, the test revealed:

  • The average participant opened the A-CHESS app 62% of the days it was available to them.
  • The app’s social-support features were the most popular (discussion groups, messaging). 
  • 100% of the participants engaged with the social-support features at least once.
  • 46% of participants were still using the social-support features at the end of the test.
  • Facilitated online discussion groups are key to keeping participants active, preventing app utilization attrition, and promoting positive communication

Key Findings.

  • Participants used the app with regularity.
  • Social support features promote high engagement.
  • Facilitated online discussion groups were key to successful, long-term engagement and participation

Based on this test, study leaders concluded that this population would make regular use of a recovery support app, offering a powerful tool to encourage offenders to stay in treatment and avoid relapse. 

Read the complete research report to learn more about the methodology and outcomes. 

*In this study, the mention of A-CHESS refers to the original name for what is now called the Connections app, which is part of CHESS Health’s eRecovery solution.

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