Study to determine if financial rewards can help Vermonters stop drinking

Local News

A Massachusetts company will test whether an $800 cash incentive can help Vermonters stop drinking.

DynamiCare Health, digital health company, opened enrollment in a federally funded, $1.6 million study of a rewards-based coaching program for Vermont Medicaid members who struggle with alcohol use.

“Vermont is one of the highest in the nation in rates of alcoholism and alcohol related deaths are far above deaths from the opioid epidemic,” Chief Medical Officer David Gastfriend said. 

“The reason we use financial awards to help people make the effort for each little behavior towards their recovery is because the whole nature of addiction is that the drugs of abuse disrupt the brain’s reward sector,” he said.

About 300 people in Vermont are participating in the study. The state’s chief medical officer for Medicaid, Scott Strenio, said he’s encouraged by the technology.

“It constantly reminds them and motivates them and incentivizes them to do the things we know help with recovery,” Strenio said. 

The University of Vermont is testing a similar program for pregnant women who smoke.  

“And so we had our own Vermont data already to show that using motivational incentives adds something to the mix,” Strenio said. 

Melissa Winterborne is 15 months sober and was a participant in a past study.  She said the app holds her accountable. 

“And I don’t have to feel guilty about spending money on myself because it is something that I am doing and something that I am being rewarded for,” Winterborne said. 

DynamiCare Health CEO Eric Gastfriend said members will receive a breathalyzer in the mail and, at random times, will receive an alert on a mobile app to conduct a test.

“They record a selfie video of themselves while they breathe into the breathalyzer, and it’s bluetooth connected so we get the results automatically,” Eric Gastfriend.

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