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South Carolina prison to treat substance abuse with digital therapy

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports 85% of the U.S. prison population has an active substance use disorder or were imprisoned over drug-related crimes.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Corrections will offer a new digital tracking service to support addiction therapy for inmates in the state's main prison for women.

Eligible inmates will report their substance use, cravings, and triggers on a smart device, and counselors will use the results to inform their therapy sessions. The $159,840 program is funded by the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. Pear Therapeutics, Inc., said its program is the first of its kind in a U.S. prison.

“We are excited to begin this cutting-edge treatment for our female inmates who suffer from addiction,” SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said Thursday in a press release.

The Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution will offer the FDA-authorized tracking software as a 90-day treatment intended to increase abstinence and boost participation in cognitive behavioral therapy programs.

Safety warnings say the devices are designed to work alongside existing medications and in-person clinical contact. A prison spokesperson, Chrysti Shain, said incarcerated people will still receive the therapy required by federal regulators.

When used outside of prisons, digital therapeutics can incentivize users through nonmonetary rewards and retail gift cards. Behind bars, participants will earn digital badges and rewards including “increased canteen spending, homework passes, increased tablet time, no duties or chores,” according to Shain.

National Institute on Drug Abuse data shows that 85% of the nation’s prison population has an active substance use disorder or was imprisoned over drug-related crimes. The agency and company said that in the first two weeks after their release, formerly incarcerated people are 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than those in the general population.

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