Very Real Help Announces Grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Very Real Help (VRH), a company developing a novel mental health application, announced today a $206,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to use their groundbreaking peer-support mental health platform as a clinical research tool to improve treatment for individuals living with opioid use disorder. The platform, titled Help Club, is an evidence-based intervention translated from Vanderbilt University research by founder Noah Robinson.

The platform provides an accessible and affordable mental health intervention that combines proven principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and the increasingly promising aspects of peer support and is delivered via immersive virtual reality (VR) environments. VRH's founding strategic partnership with JourneyPure, one of the largest providers of substance use rehabilitation services in the country, is providing a direct route to real world platform testing and execution.

This highly competitive Phase I grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) will allow Nashville-based Very Real Help to explore using Help Club to facilitate SMART Recovery meetings for individuals with opioid use disorder. Help Club delivers live, synchronous peer-based social support in VR for individuals with mental health disorders and can be accessed in virtual reality headsets or computers and phones. Using this approach, the application provides 24/7 access to peer support that helps individuals establish ties to pro-recovery peers and to improve recovery outcomes.

VRH and JourneyPure are working together to conduct initial acceptance and usability testing with patients receiving medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. Dr. Brian Wind, JourneyPure's Vice President & Chief of Clinical Operations, says "We've seen tremendous promise in the Very Real Help approach, as together we've hosted over 300 meetings, and been able to reach 150 individuals with critical mental health help. The results we've seen indicate that this approach has the power to transform the way that our country accesses and engages with help for addiction and other mental health issues, and we look forward to making that happen together with the VRH team."

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in the United States leading to approximately 72,000 deaths in 2017. Many of these occurred in individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD), one of the greatest public health issues confronting the United States today.

"For millions of Americans suffering from OUD and other mental health issues, traditional treatments are difficult to access, complicated to navigate, and expensive," says Noah Robinson, CEO and Founder of Very Real Help. "Our mission is to make critical help both accessible and affordable for all, with complete anonymity, whenever and wherever people need it. If we can make intervention more accessible than drugs, I believe we can not only make a dent in this opioid crisis, but we can virtually change the standard of psychological care."

The team's novel approach is timely, as healthcare struggles to find successful telehealth approaches. Digital Recovery Support Services like VRH that include peer support, psychoeducation, and other continuing care services have the potential to circumvent many of the limitations with agonist medication treatment and traditional psychosocial interventions for OUD. Help Club will be available at home during moments of relapse risk, allowing them to virtually "leave" a potentially challenging or triggering environment and instead become immersed in a recovery-focused social world.

Upon successful completion of VRH's Phase I grant, the efficacy of Help Club will be measured through a randomized control trial in a Phase II grant.