A relatively new substance use disorder (SUD) startup is tackling addiction from a different angle. Called youturn, the company focuses on community SUD education and intervention, rather than on treatment itself.
The goal is to teach people to recognize SUD warning signs in colleagues and loved ones, according to company co-founder and CEO Shaler Houser.
“If the family members [or managers] become educated on what’s happening with the loved one [or colleague], they’re better capable of supporting the person with the addiction,” Houser told Behavioral Health Business. “We believe that will help the individual that’s struggling find sobriety and then eventually recovery quicker.”
Founded in September 2018, youturn licenses therapist-led content to enterprises, who use the material for risk mitigation and to supplement their wellness and employee assistance programing.
While youturn’s content is purely educational, the company backs up its material with a coaching program, giving employees access to coaches via text and telephone. Those coaches, who are a mix of contractors and youturn employees, can help people navigate SUD, whether they’re suffering or a loved is. Plus, they can direct users toward appropriate treatment if necessary.
However, youturn aims to intervene before it comes to institutionalization. The company differentiates itself by focusing on prevention, rather than waiting for individuals to hit rock bottom, Houser said.
“This idea of waiting on somebody to go hit bottom and destroy their life is insane,” Houser said. “It would be the equivalent of you going into the doctor with high blood sugar, and the doctor, instead of talking about healthy eating, … waiting until he has to take your leg off from Type 2 diabetes and then saying, ‘Well, you learned your lesson.’”
So far, youturn has about 20 customers, Houser said. It platform has about 340 therapist-led videos on substance abuse and misuse, making it the largest database of its kind. Generally, youturn’s content falls into two buckets: videos for employees and videos for managers.
On the manager front, youturn has developed a 10-video series called Recovery First Aid, which is a workplace training program focused on drugs and alcohol. The goal is to help managers and supervisors recognize addiction and teach them how to help. Houser compared the program to safety courses or sexual harassment training.
“The idea is that supervisors and managers go through the annual training, they take an assessment, they pass the assessments and they become certified in recovery first aid,” Houser said. “That certification goes to HR, so the company has now done something about drugs and alcohol in the workplace.”
Meanwhile, youturn also has content specially designed for employees whose loved ones might have substance use problems. The resources are designed to help people recognize and address the issue.
Together, the risk mitigation and educational components help enterprises increase employee productivity and resilience, ultimately containing costs inside of the company’s health plan, according to Houser.
In addition to working with enterprises, youturn has pilot programs in place with the U.S. Army Reserve in Illinois and the South Carolina Veterans Administration to address suicide. Plus, it’s in talks with the Army National Guard in four different states.
Medical schools are another quickly growing client base for youturn. Currently, the startup is working with Clemson University and the University of Southern California to train third year medical students on addiction, and that’s only the beginning, according to Houser.
“We’ve had 29 medical schools sign letters of intent to utilize our content,” he said. “And those include Johns Hopkins, Duke and Georgetown.”
So far, youturn has raised about $2.5 million to date, with most investors being individuals who have been directly impacted by addiction. The company’s ultimate goal is to get 10 million people trained in recovery first aid, then expand into other areas of behavioral health beyond addiction.