In May 2016, Comic Relief convened a small group of charities working on the frontline of drug and alcohol dependency to talk about how they might use technology to deliver their services. Few had any digital knowhow, but all delivered vital, difficult work—1.9 million people in the UK are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and addiction results in 12,000 deaths here each year.
Prior to the workshop, CAST conducted interviews with participating CEOs to establish key principles of ‘abstinence-based recovery’; to map what digital products they already used; and to identify shared challenges. These insights guided the subsequent design hop CAST led, during which the charities’ leaders developed their ideas around how digital could improve their work and outcomes.
During the day, a small north Lancashire and Cumbria not-for-profit, The Well, which supports 6,648 people a year with a staff of 19 people and 30 volunteers, outlined its Warrior Down service—which offers peer-to-peer support to addicts when they relapse.
The Well’s CEO David Higham, himself an ex-addict, saw that – by developing an online version of Warrior Down – the charity would for the first time be able to offer the service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, enabling the charity to support addicts when they most needed it (often outside office hours).
With CAST’s support, the charity trialled the idea on WhatsApp. Its success convinced Comic Relief to fund a small trial of an app, designed by Reason Digital. The trial showed service users getting support within 14 seconds of activating the app.
Higham says: “The cycle of relapse and recovery is incredibly isolating, and as an ex-user, I know how hard it is to reach out and ask for help. By offering a digital version of our Warrior Down peer-support network, we are making it so much easier for a user to ask for help, at any stage in that cycle, and make it so much easier for us to respond. I was so impressed by the progress we were able to make in a phenomenally short period of time: CAST totally focused our brains on a key challenge that digital could help us address, and by the end of that day we had a working prototype for what can become a life-changing tool for substance users.”