Rimrock, drug courts bring new addiction treatment technology to Montana

App instantly connects those in recovery to resources, help, 24/7

By: - July 27, 2021 8:06 pm

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks at conference promoting new tools for those in addiction treatment in Billings on July 27, 2021 (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

The difference between relapse and recovery is about 30 seconds.

For those struggling with addiction, a middle-of-the-night moment of isolation, anxiety can lead to a relapse, a shame cycle and more problems.

However, a fusion of technology and treatment were being touted in Billings on Tuesday as Rimrock Foundation, Substance Abuse Connect, and GoMoHealth rolled out a program that will be used in conjunction with Montana’s growing drug treatment courts to respond with help, information and in-person counseling for those people in recovery.

The program seeks to bridge one of the most persistent gaps in treatment: That crisis or the urge to relapse doesn’t just happen Monday through Friday or during business hours.

Instead, GoMoHealth has created an app that not only delivers content, but can immediately notify counselors and therapists when a patient is in crisis – even in the middle of the night. Not only has one of the region’s largest addictions group, Rimrock, started to use the technology, but many participants in the substance abuse courts will also have access to it.

“How do they know which of their people need help at any given moment?” asked GoMoHealth founder Bob Gold. “Often we in behavioral health find out when it’s too late.”

The technology works like this: Using the mobile app, those who are going through addictions counseling get customized content specific, tailored for them. The messages for those in day treatment are different than those in outpatient programming. In addition to getting information about addictions or assignments from treatment, participants also get other practical information, for example tips for helping relieve anxiety or stress in a healthy way.

Gold explained that recovery is often thought of as single-dimensional, but in order to change the habit, those in recovery often have to change a variety of things in life, like exercise and eating habits. That means, GoMoHealth and providers have to provide a lot more than information about addictions. So, through the app, those in recovery receive information about nutrition or even how to start an exercise or meditation program.

“The digital technology goes into homes and into their environments, and it reinforces the messages of staff and counselors,” Gold said.

The system also asks and records how those in recovery are feeling. Feelings of depression or anxiety are flagged as they are often the indicators of a possible relapse. Most importantly, those in recovery can text – any time day or night – and be connected with a counselor who can help them when temptation or stress strikes.

This week, Gov. Greg Gianforte spoke to a group of several hundred people, many addictions counselors throughout the state, about the importance of the program and touted the newly added resources to drug courts and rehabilitation services. As lawmakers generally held the line on state spending, Gianforte led a successful push to add more resources to addictions and counseling programs to counteract the methamphetamine, suicide and foster children epidemic in Montana.

“This couldn’t have come at a more important time,” Gianforte said. “The drug crisis is ripping our families apart.”

Yellowstone County Judge Mary Jane Knisely started the state’s first treatment court in 2010. She’s been a pioneer and champion for the model, which has started to expand statewide. Gianforte credited her with being a pioneer so much so that he asked her to swear him in as governor. He applauded the work of the court with the private sector to create an all-encompassing program.

Knisely said that her court has had a texting program for several years, but the GoMoHealth platform is more robust. Technology helped keep the drug courts going in Yellowstone County even during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said they were still able to check-in with clients, do remote transdermal patch testing, even yoga.

“I don’t know how you would do this without technology,” Knisely said. “This helps fill some of the gaps.”

For example, going through recovery is a time-consuming process. But many in treatment also worry about housing or parenting or transportation. This app helps bridge those gaps so that clients remain successful, Knisely said.

“Treatment courts work. They reduce addiction. They reduce recidivism and they increase public safety,” Gianforte said. “To any who might be struggling, we say you’re not alone. There are pathways and resources. The road you trudge will be challenging, but you are not alone. Let us help you become all you were meant to be.”

The technology isn’t just available to those going through addictions treatment, but also families who are often estranged, strained or stressed. The app also shares content and positive messaging to help support those in treatment.

Robert Tambo, a veteran in the treatment court, said that during those moments of temptation, isolation and anxiety, he’s been helped by the app. He told the group he sometimes suffers from insomnia, and that’s when some of the thoughts can take root.

But he’s not alone, he said, because he can text “talk” on the app to be connected to a counselor. Or, he can text “joke” and receive a joke.

“I have realized that humor is a big part of my recovery,” Tambo said.

Texting “story” for some participants can also lead to a story from a peer counselor who struggled with addiction, too.

“Bad thoughts don’t come on a schedule,” Tambo said. “It could be a 30-second, maybe one minute, window where you have to make the right or the wrong decision.”

He’s been in a treatment court for more than a year. During that time, he said, he’s restored broken relationships with his family.

“I tossed those out the window. Addiction, it has been said, is a disease of isolation,” Tambo said. “Relapse is not an event, but a process. This allows us to interrupt the process.”

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.