In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies started aggressively advertising opioid painkillers but downplaying their addictive potential. The prescription rate of opioids skyrocketed, which led to widespread misuse of opioids before the highly addictive nature became apparent.

The Opioid Epidemic has been around for almost 30 years, and in the US, there are still well over 16,000 people dying from prescription opioid overdose in 2020. Approximately 1.6 million people had an Opioid Use Disorder, and around 10.1 million people misused prescription opioids in 2019.

While drug recovery facilities are all over the states, the fewest and the most states with substance abuse treatment facilities per 100,000 drug users have a stunning eight times difference, indicating an inefficient distribution of resources.

Studies have also shown a strong correlation between social capital and drug abuse. Specifically, the feeling of loneliness would increase the probability of taking high-risk behaviors and abusing drugs. These risk factors indicate some new angles to tackle the opioid epidemic.

Building on Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design’s multi-year engagement with the opioid overdose crisis, we found an opportunity to shape the realization of an inclusive and humanistic system for opioid recovery. As our institutions are constantly conducting research on tackling the opioid crisis, we feel enthusiastic and obliged to assist in battling the crisis.

As we explore opioid-related datasets and research papers, we identified two problems that, if solved, could significantly improve the recovery process of OUD:

  • Social isolation among drug abusers
  • Unequal recovery resource distribution

The name ‘OpiVoid’ came from the well-known oversupplied painkiller ‘Opioid’ and the verb ‘avoid’, implying all users of OpiVoid would eventually avoid opioids and any related damages to their bodies.

What it does

To solve the previous problems, we created OpiVoid with two core values:

  1. We will break the social isolation barriers of the millions of people with opioid use disorder by building a safe and inclusive community for them to share daily lives, talk to peers with similar experiences and join local withdrawal groups.

  2. We will help allocate drug recovery resources more efficiently by building a platform for online treatment consulting with professional doctors

OpiVoid has:

  • A Home page to view and interact with others’ posts;

  • A Care page to find the suitable healthcare professionals, peers, and communities for treatment consultations or in-person activities;

  • A Post button for posting and sharing texts and images;

  • A Message page to check appointment and activity schedules and notifications; and the likes, collects as well as comments you receive from others

  • A Me page to find past posts, achievements, edit personal profile and adjust settings.

How we built it

Initially, we did broad desk research to find data and current studies about OUD to develop frameworks for understanding and responding to the problems.

We reached out to RISD and Brown research centers and professors to find people helping and assisting people with OUD. We talked with them to learn more about our audience’s pain points and needs as well as how to build strategic interventions.

After identifying our problems and users, we did competitor analysis and found similar products attempting to address the stated problems. However, the recovery coaching platform, Accountable, costs at least 250$/month, and it’s not covered by insurance, making it incredibly difficult for low-income or jobless people to access recovery treatment. The opioid recovery communication platform, HOPE, is for internal use and focuses on patient-clinician communication. Since neither of the solutions seems to have enough capacity to support people living with substance use disorder, we decided to create OpiVoid, a mobile App for people with OUD who are socially isolated and have limited access to professional help. Our goal is to build a healing and humane system with doctor-peer-community support and a user-focused social platform.

To create the prototype of OpiVoid, we first identified a major persona to create primary user flow and a Low-Fi prototype. After polishing the primary user flow, we generated a secondary user flow and started building the Hi-Fi prototype with Figma. At the same time, we also started constructing an iOS app through Swift.

Challenges we ran into

  • It is challenging to get into direct communication with people with OUD. This limits our ability to get first-hand information on the needs of our core users. We need to carefully address the information we get to protect the interviewees’ privacy and not stigmatize people with OUD.

  • Our App is a relatively complete speculative system with multiple features. It takes a lot of functionalities and pages to accomplish the App we aim to realize as we’re solving two stated problems at a time. Therefore it is very challenging for our software team and UI/UX team to produce the prototype in such a short period of time.

  • Because of limited user data, our App may miss some edge cases. We can address this issue after our App is officially launched.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • Within 10 days, we formed a team of 6 and completed a functional prototype from scratch.

  • We focused on tackling a complex social challenge by taking account of a wide variety of stakeholders in a short amount of time.

  • We collaborated transdisciplinarily.

  • When facing unexpected difficulties, we were able to accept, adapt and change our solution quickly as a team.

What we learned

  • How to communicate with other strategists, researchers, and people who are helping OUD patients to translate user stories and needs into effective designs

  • How design, data research, and software development can be instrumental in helping people who use substances to better navigate, manage and thrive in online communities

  • How to tell our story verbally and visually

  • Help instill a human-centered and collaborative culture in the team

  • How to collaborate as a team with people from other backgrounds and deliver our work with understandable language

What's next for OpiVoid

  • As our platform grows, we will generate millions of lines of conversation records between our users. By leveraging the treatment plans, demographic info, and conversation records, we could use machine learning algorithms to train a live chat AI for producing customized opioid treatments.

  • We would also make our data easily accessible for researchers and institutions under privacy policy to foster academic research on opioid recovery.

  • We want to create a loop by converting recovered patients to certified peers, offering job opportunities for recovered patients, and at the same time, providing help to people who are still suffering from the epidemic.

  • Ultimately, we want to collaborate with the government, recovery centers, research institutions, and insurance companies to expand our service ecosystem and make OpiVoid the go-to platform for opioid recovery patients to share experiences, learn, and get professional help when they are lonely and helpless.

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