Inside Google’s Approach to Revolutionizing Addiction Treatment

Google’s life science-focused subsidiary Verily has made a bet on an opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment center.

It comes as the tech conglomerate — along with its parent company and other business segments — continues to move increasingly into behavioral health care.

(Nasdaq: GOOGL) life science subsidiary has teamed up with providers Kettering Health Network and Premier Health to create the nonprofit OUD treatment center OneFifteen in Dayton, Ohio. It also worked with Alexandria Real Estate Equities (ARE) for the location.

In 2021, there were 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the US. That represents a 28.5 percent increase in deaths from the previous year, according to the CDC.

The center, which is named after the 115 lives a day that were lost to unintentional overdoses in 2016, first opened in 2019.

It is located on a 4.5-acre campus and offers a crisis stabilization unit, an outpatient clinic, an inpatient treatment program, and a residential treatment program. Patients can also go to the provider for medication-assisted treatment (MAT), including naltrexone and buprenorphine.

Although the provider has a physical location, there is a technical aspect that needs to be taken care of. If the patient agrees, the provider “applies analytics to measure the effectiveness of different treatment options across the full continuum of care.” The organization said it uses the data to help develop care and treatment programs.

“Leveraging on our capabilities in building health platforms, we aim to create a ‘learning health system’ that aims to address this critical information gap in addiction medicine,” Verily wrote in a blog post when OneFifteen launched in 2019. “In addition to providing the technical infrastructure for day-to-day patient treatment, the system will also generate insights that could improve understanding of how to treat and promote sustainable recovery for those experiencing addiction, and enable to develop best practices.

There is also a digital health care component. OneFifteen offers telehealth services where patients can join a group, meet with a therapist or connect with their peer support specialist. Patients can also use the company’s app to check upcoming appointments and manage their care.

While hopes are high for OneFifteen, Verily is still waiting to capitalize on the full opportunity, according to Blomberg, who profiled the OUD clinic on Tuesday.

“With far fewer patients than it expected in its first year, Verily struggled to collect enough data to perform the kind of analysis that was central to its strategy,” Bloomberg reported. “Eventually, pandemic restrictions were lifted and more patients arrived. However, OneFifteen has not yet released its machine learning models to predict relapses and analyze the conditions Veri originally wanted.”

In early September, Verily received $1 billion in a funding round led by Alphabet. At the time, the company said it would use the funds to focus on precision health. Specifically, the cash infusion would help grow real-world evidence generation, health data platforms, research and underlying technologies.

In August, the center announced it had treated more than 5,000 patients since opening. The center received $1.1 million in CARES ACT funding for COVID-19 relief.

Verily isn’t the only Alphabet company turning its attention to behavioral health. In 2021, Google hired Headspace Health vet Megan Jones Bell as its clinical director of consumer and mental health.

Google also previously launched the Mental Health Self-Assessment Tool. The tool offers self-assessment for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and postpartum depression. It then provides users with additional information and resources.

And while Google is innovating in the virtual environment, Alphabet’s venture arm, GV, is following Verily’s lead and looking to the physical space.

The venture capital firm, which is independent of Google, may seek serious mental illness and investment, according to Dr. Ben Robbins, general partner at GV.

“The community of people who are willing to take the risk to start a company is getting smarter and smarter,” Robbins recently told Behavioral Health Business. “And [SMI] is an area that is complex. You can’t have just content or just a lightweight chatbot. I don’t think it’s a space that’s really conducive to pure virtual. The combination of cognitive impairment, social complexity, clinical complexity – I think it has to be a hybrid model, if not completely personal.”

But it’s not just big tech looking to solve the opioid crisis. The federal government has invested billions of dollars in efforts to curb it. Last week, for example, the Biden administration announced a $1.6 billion investment in community programs to address the addiction and overdose crisis.

BHB spoke with the CEO of OneFifteen in September 2021. Highlights of that conversation are available here.

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