Drug abuse treatment app
FDA approves first app to treat drug abuseKENYA-DRUGS/LAMU REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first-ever medical app to treat people with substance use disorders or SUDs.

Called Reset, the new app comes from the house of Pear Therapeutics — a fully integrated, digital therapeutics startup. It assists drug therapies designed for patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and other stimulants. The app is still not approved to treat opioid dependence, according to FDA.

Reset administers a digitised talk treatment, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help outpatients abstain from taking drugs. The therapy explores relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviours to help patients continue with their medicines or rehab programmes.

The digital therapy can be administered by smartphone or desktop. FDA tested the desktop version of the app on some 400 patients over a three-month period. The results from the unblinded trial noted that the app — when combined with clinical therapy — was more effective than standard therapy alone.

Specifically, the medical app was successful in helping more than 40% of trial patients to abstain from alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and stimulant substance, compared to just 17.6% patients with conventional therapy alone.

Substance abuse costs over $740bn (£550bn) in the US, notes CNBC. The number of drug related deaths, on the other hand, has tripled since 2000.

The FDA approved app comes as several digital health firms continue to develop mobile apps to augment or sometimes replace conventional therapies. Currently, apps are being developed to treat insomnia, opioid dependence, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Scientists have also demonstrated how brain stimulation could help in kicking off cocaine addiction.

"This is an example of how innovative digital technologies can help provide patients access to additional tools during their treatment," said Carlos Peña from FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "More therapy tools means a greater potential to help improve outcomes, including abstinence, for patients with substance use disorder."