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Inspiration from Frustration
The Sick Not Stupid app was inspired by my experiences as the Clinical Supervisor at a Methadone Clinic in Texas.
My patients and counselors experience frustration on a daily basis.
The frustration has many causes, but perhaps the most aggravating of them is the dissemination of such bad information about opioids and opioid use disorder that is presented as fact to the general public.
I wanted to build an asset that patients could use to improve their prognosis.
I wanted to build an app that counselors could use to help anticipate what patients will go through at varying stages of recovery.
But mostly, I just wanted a place where people could read about their condition without being bombarded with ads about rehab facilities which offer treatments that are in no way designed to address opioid use disorder.
Opioid Use Disorder results in a lot of sleepless nights.
I want people to have something productive and entertaining to read when that happens. Without being told that the way they’re doing it is “wrong” somehow.
And your contest inspired me to make that happen.
## What it does
Sick Not Stupid is an educational app for anyone affected by opioid use disorder.
Sick Not Stupid has one purpose: to help people recover by sharing what we’ve learned from research and patient behavior over the years.
We’re advocates for treatment. We want to help you fight shame. We don’t believe people should be punished for seeking help.
Because despite what you may have heard, opioid addiction does not discriminate. Nor is it the untreatable monster that we used to believe it was.
You can get better.
You can recover.
With the overdose epidemic shattering lives all over the country, it’s truer now than ever.
“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.” - Tara Brach
Shame Kills. We want you alive. If you’re dead, you can’t recover.
Our mission is to help you know what to expect in treatment, to identify obstacles, find support groups, and most of all, to free you from shame.
If you’re considering treatment, get the app to learn how to identify the treatment that’s best for you.
If you’re a friend or family member of someone suffering from opioid use disorder, get the app to learn more about what they’re going through – without ads, without prejudice, and without the myths that are all over popular culture.
If you’re an existing patient in medication-assisted treatment, get the app to learn how to manage your treatment more effectively.
A patient-informed blog that shows you how to improve your chances of recovery
A searchable directory of methadone clinics and Suboxone prescribers
In-depth details on the differences between types of treatment and their typical outcomes
Direct access to the latest research on opioid use disorder and its consequences
Links to professional and consumer publications to help the people around you understand your treatment
Explanations of the laws and guidelines surrounding treatment and why they’re in place
Tools to help you manage your recovery
## How I built it
My primary skill set is in content. So I started with a WordPress site.
I decided the website was a good way to get some knowledge of code. The last time I ever coded anything was when I would make websites for friends in Notepad using HTML. Beyond that, I’d only ever used templates.
The site-building approach, in conjunction with the assets file, was incredibly useful. It lent me a discipline to categorize elements of the blog. It helped prevent me from writing too much on one subject at the expense of another.
It also allowed me to test links and other features before attempting to write an actual app.
As a result, Sick Not Stupid has a very rich source of content.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in any of the technology. But right now in opioid treatment, we don’t even have consumer-friendly information of the most basic kind.
I wound up using Goodbarber to facilitate the actual app building. Of all the other tools I found, I could either go crazy trying to reinvent the wheel, or focus on my content to achieve the mission. I used Storemapper to build the location finder, so I could manually update the databases I use of Methadone Clinics and Suboxone prescribers.
## Challenges I ran into
So I discovered I’m not a programmer.
We have come so far since the days when a tutorial can teach me programming in a short time.
All of it was useful. But none of the competencies I learned were enough to build an app that could rival what the most basic Wordpress-to-App plugins could. So in choosing Goodbarber, I selected the tool that gave me the most leeway. And it took a while, but I learned how to add my own HTML changes on the site!
I discovered that unless you know exactly what you want, adding an actual programmer to the task is almost counter-productive.
I had approached a friend of mine Antonio Tijerino, who leads the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, to work with some of the members of his project “Code as a Second Language” – they were very enthusiastic! But until I put together this Beta and see what works and what doesn’t, it seems like jumping ahead too far. I look forward to having their technical expertise as I grow the apps functionality.
Writing an app while supervising a clinic and serving an overfull caseload of patients is hard.
It’s doable, but I don’t recommend doing it often. Many times I approached exhaustion, and according to my wife, extreme irritability. (I take issue with the term “extreme!”). I went to great lengths to ensure I wasn’t writing or coding at work, and made even greater efforts to ensure my patients never felt a lack of attention from me.
I don’t know if it’s due to my own efforts, or just their kindness, but my patients have been awesome in answering questions about their own challenges.
## Accomplishments that I'm proud of
I am very proud to have learned how to build an app in the first place.
I am proud that this app has the potential to improve the treatment experience of thousands of people suffering from opioid use disorder.
When we improve the treatment experience, people stay in treatment longer
Since treatment adherence is the biggest obstacle to any long term medication assisted treatment, keeping to that mission has been absolutely key.
It doesn’t matter what technology, or treatment, you create if people won’t use it.
I am proud that my initial testers report that I help them pass the time. I am proud that this app can help patients AND counselors realize they are not alone.
And regarding this competition, I’m most proud that I found tools to create what my coding skills alone could not.
## What I learned
I learned that I will write more apps.
This experience was not just humbling, but enlightening. It was astonishing for me to see how much technical support is out there, people who have technical skills but are starving for content.
I learned that it’s an excellent idea to back up my website on a daily basis. (If you heard a distant scream from South Texas in mid-May, that was me.)
I learned even more how passionate so many good people are about fighting this epidemic.
I learned how they continue the fight, day by day, with very few resources. I learned that so many of my fellow counselors become comfortable NOT telling even their friends what they do if they work in methadone or Suboxone clinics.
And I learned how many friends in the field still recoil at the fact that there’s a way to recover without the 12 Steps. This was difficult to navigate, and I am in awe of the people in recovery who work in opioid treatment.
## What's next for Sick Not Stupid
This app is the minimum viable product at the moment.
I want to use this judging time for feedback and to plan the next iteration, which can involve tools I was unable to integrate so far. Creating a membership area is problematic because many in treatment have a deep distrust for other patients; I hope to solve that problem more elegantly than just including a chat area.
I also have books coming out on Methadone in Pregnancy, and Restoring Dignity to Substance Abuse Treatment.
I hope this app helps me build a tribe that will propagate what I’ve learned, and help others increase their understanding.
As long as there are professional counselors who “don’t believe in Methadone” (or Suboxone or any other kind of MAT), there is work to do.
When our President calls for more treatment, we must respond – but with a developed workforce that can stay in the field more than 18 months. It won’t be enough to improve pay (but yes, please, let’s do that too) – the general public needs to know how vital this work is, and how much the act of shaming keeps so many from seeking help.
This is the beginning. Thank you so much for this adventure.