Today, I am honored to announce that TRIPP, our adaptive digital health company that develops products to address mental wellness, focus and productivity, together with Sober Grid, the world’s largest mobile addiction recovery community, announced the receipt of a highly-competitive $1.7M “fast track” grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The grant is presented in two phases to streamline the administrative process with the first phase launching immediately under NIDA’s Small Business Innovation Research grant program. Both study phases will take place at Houston’s renowned Memorial Hermann Prevention & Recovery Center. The “PaRC” has an award winning, 35-year history of treating alcoholism, drug addiction and co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders in Houston, TX.
Combining TRIPP and Sober Grid technologies will allow researchers to study the effectiveness of providing continuity of care in addiction recovery treatment. The study will analyze the use of TRIPP’s VR platform in clinic and following (with an at-home version of the platform), and its efficacy when augmented by Sober Grid’s easily-accessed digital peer recovery coaching support and robust mobile recovery community. The goal of the two-phase project is to develop innovative treatments to help reduce drug abuse and strengthen addiction recovery, which accounts for an estimated $600B a year in societal costs, according to NIDA. (You can read the full press release here.)
This research initiative is an incredibly personal mission for me as I have been deeply impacted by the tragic outcomes that are the result of living with addiction. My mother was an opiate addict most of my life and I lost my sister Vicki to a heroin and methamphetamine overdose. Every day I wake up missing my sister Vicki’s vibrant, funny, wrathful, wild spirit.
We came from the same DNA, the same life experiences and I can’t help but be grateful that my life didn’t take the same path as my sister, my mother and the countless other family members I’ve watched be destroyed from addiction and its related tragedies.
I had my own problems with addiction and trauma related mental health issues that hit a peak in my early teenage years. Playing video games was a way for me to escape the volatility of my environment and most importantly, video games gave me a deep interest in technology that ultimately led me to the work I do today. In a time of crisis as a teenager, I was also very fortunate to receive help from a therapist who gave me the gift of meditation. It was in that quiet space of being willing to accept help from a very compassionate and kind person that I began to see a different vision of what my life could be like if I started to make different choices. It also motivated me to take the steps needed to live a life in recovery. As a result, I have been given many opportunities, life experiences and gifts that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to me.
However, I am not alone in the struggles I have had in my early life and with my family. 46% of American families report that they have a friend or family member with a current or past addiction. And we don’t escape the impact of addiction related issues when we are outside of the home. Drug abuse and addiction cost American society more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.
Two years ago my co-founding partner Zack Norman and I started TRIPP with the support of our investors at Mayfield, Presence Capital, Fenwick & West and a group of friends and relatives who believed in our vision of using tech for good. Specifically, we saw that the inherent property of immersion that virtual reality facilitates is a powerful mechanism for creating a contemplative space. With our shared love for video games and the personal benefits I have received from years of evolving a deep meditation practice, we came up with the initial idea to “hack mindfulness”. We set out to use the power of virtual reality to deliver a targeted experience that incorporates mindfulness structures in the framework of simple game play mechanics. We also wanted to design our product as a method to connect to your inner-self and what is meaningful in your life. What we have found throughout the past two years of development is that what we are actually building is a powerful platform for delivering digital therapeutics and wellness applications.
There is a large body of research pioneered by top scientists and mental health experts over the years on the use of VR to address mental health issues. TRIPP has had the good fortune to be able to collaborate and connect with many of the leaders in this space as we began to investigate the research that ultimately influenced the design of our product. I am especially thankful to Walter Greenleaf, PhD and the team at The National Mental Health Innovation Center for their guidance throughout our ongoing product development and research initiatives.
As a serial entrepreneur who has been relatively successful in my journey in tech, I believe that virtual reality has the potential to be a “killer app” in addressing mental health and wellness related issues. There is still a great deal of data that is needed to be published but we now have a standalone device ecosystem that are at affordable price points and can support evidence based research at the scale required to bring these application based treatments to those in need responsibly. The start-up mindset of “move fast and break things” doesn’t apply when you are dealing with someone’s well-being.
Unfortunately, in spite of many technology and medical advancements the sad truth is that many who suffer from addiction will never accept the help offered to them. Recent SAMHSA data states that only 5.7% of the people suffering from addiction will seek help. My sister Vicki was one of those who refused help no matter how hard all of us who loved her tried to convince her to stop killing herself on a daily basis.
I have seen many of my friends, family members and work colleagues suffer the heartbreak of having every offer of help made to a loved one in the throes of addiction be rejected. Even more heartbreaking is when an addict does finally commit to recovery it is often only temporarily and ends frequently in a tragic outcome.
Our hope is that in this collaboration with Sober Grid we can help reduce the barriers to accessing help to all of those who do have a desire to change their lives for the better.
I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to begin the investigative research and related product development necessary to realize this vision. We couldn’t have a better partner to collaborate with on this journey than the team at Sober Grid who already do a great service to those in recovery with a very active recovery community on their mobile app. I am also very grateful to the leadership team at Memorial Hermann for their generosity in facilitating both phases of this research at their site in Houston and to the NIH/NIDA for their financial support for this initiative.
If you or a loved one are seeking help with Substance Use Disorder, please visit: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline