In COVID-19 pandemic, Ann Arbor-based Workit Health finds opportunity to combat opioid epidemic

This story is part of a series about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.

 

As access to telemedicine has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ann Arbor company Workit Health has identified an opportunity to radically change addiction treatment and combat the opioid crisis.

 

Workit partners with health care organizations to provide addiction and substance abuse treatment programs on a digital-first platform. Founders Lisa McLaughlin and Robin McIntosh met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and felt the addiction recovery experience needed to offer more flexibility in both cost and time commitment.

 

Workit's program allows patients to meet with clinicians and counselors, join recovery groups, and complete self-set recovery goals virtually in conjunction with any needed, FDA-approved medication.

 

McLaughlin says the pandemic has created new opportunities for telehealth addiction treatment.

 

"So many devastating things have happened with COVID, but it’s broken a lot of the barriers for addiction care that are holding progress back," McLaughlin says. "We believe we’re not going back to a world where telehealth is restricted."

 

Before the pandemic, federal laws and policies, such as the Ryan Haight Act, required some elements of addiction care, like prescribing medication to be done in person. However, the pandemic has required many treatment centers and clinics to shift operations to a virtual setting. Workit was able to easily transition to a digital-only program and continue providing care to patients with noticeable benefits.

 

McLaughlin says the convenience and privacy of telehealth are better than a brick-and-mortar setting, especially for addiction care. Since Workit has shifted to entirely virtual appointments, McLaughlin notes blood pressure numbers have been significantly lower and patients seem less anxious at their first appointments.

 

With this spike in telehealth needs, Workit has also seen overwhelming growth. The company recently reported a 400% growth in revenue since 2019 and announced a $12 million Series B round of financing – bringing the company's total funding to $20 million since its inception in 2015.

 

"We didn’t expect it to happen so fast," McLaughlin says. "But we want to keep up the momentum we've gained under COVID conditions to become a dominant paradigm in the addiction space."

 

Workit will continue to expand its team and national footprint, making programs available in Ohio and two additional states in 2021.

 

Although the pandemic is a primary concern for many right now, McLaughlin says family and friends cannot forget about the dangers of addiction, especially as ongoing social distancing can negatively impact mental health.

 

"COVID has been hard on so many people, but it's important to recognize we're in a dual crisis [with the opioid epidemic]," McLaughlin says. "The two are intertwined. People under social isolation may need help. We have to keep that in mind as well."

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.

 

Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at emily@emilybenda.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Workit Health.

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