A news story inspired two New Albany High School students to develop a mobile app they hope to launch to help those battling opioid addiction.

Juniors Meghana Karthic and Rita Kret, both 16, have been designing the addiction-recovery app since their freshman year for Technovation, a global technology-education nonprofit that empowers girls and families to solve problems in their communities.

Karthic and Kret twice have participated in an annual competition held by Technovation in which girls are tasked with designing an app to solve a community problem. Last year during the students' sophomore year, their app made it to the semifinalist level of competition, the top 10% of all submissions worldwide.

In the Technovation Girls program, participants learn how app design works and apply that knowledge to develop an app that addresses a real-world problem that they've identified, developing a strong sense of self-efficacy as a result, said Ophelie Horsley, director of partnerships at Technovation.

"Our goal is not only to expose girls to coding, but critical soft skills -- teamwork, problem and time management, creative thinking and, at times, conflict resolution -- all of which will benefit them when they enter the workforce," Horsley said.

Girls ages 10 to 18 may participate and submit prototypes and ideas through Technovation's online platform, Horsley said. Last season, 7,200 girls from 57 countries participated, she said.

Kret said they were inspired to develop an app for combating opioid addiction after they heard a February 2017 news report about the Montgomery County Coroner's Office morgue in Dayton running out of space for bodies because of the large number of people dying from opioid overdoses.

Ohio has the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the United States, said Dr. Hal Paz, executive vice president and chancellor for health affairs at Ohio State University and CEO of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Approximately 20% of patients with an initial 10-day opioid prescription continue them after one year, Paz said, and there are 39.2 deaths per 100,000 persons in Ohio -- higher than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.

"Opioid use and abuse isn't just a medical/hospital problem, or a crime problem or a social problem -- it comes from a complex set of factors and thus needs attacked from multiple fronts, such as the work Ohio State is doing to partner with various groups and communities," Paz said. "I applaud these students' efforts to help improve lives."

The students began working on the app in February 2018. Both girls had started a programming class at the high school, but they taught themselves the coding language required to develop the app, Karthic said.

"When you use an app, you overlook so many things that go in the back end," Kret said.

Named Novo, from a Latin term meaning to start anew, the girls' app is slated to be submitted for this year's Technovation competition in April.

For the competition, the girls operate under the team name Sparrow "because the bird symbolizes power and self-worth," Karthic said.

"This aligns with the goal of the app: to encourage users to take initiative in their health by utilizing the resources we have provided," Karthic said.

Karthic and Kret plan to launch the free Novo app on Apple and Android platforms by the end of 2020.

Each school year, the girls were able to improve upon the app's design.

Their platform includes a medication tracker, a guided breathing practice, a journaling feature and a function to contact 911 and national helplines, Karthic said. The emergency-contact feature includes a space for users to enter personal contacts to be called in case of emergency, she said.

The app also includes a map showing recovery centers certified by the Emerald Jenny Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping people find addiction treatment in Ohio, Kret said.

Kret said she and Karthic incorporated a game-style reward system in which users earn points for app activities, such as participating in breathing exercises, calling a friend or clicking on a recovery center.

The benefits to the user are designed to be practical. For example, the breathing activity will help a user relax and destress, and it could decrease the user's urge for drugs when cravings are high, they said.

Besides working on coding, Kret and Karthic reached out to patients and health-care professionals to gain feedback on their app design.

During their freshman year, the two spoke with Dr. Steve Matson, director of the Opiate Addiction Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital, about their app, Karthic said. Matson was able to provide ways in which the students could tailor their app to those battling addiction.

ThisWeek was unable to reach Matson for comment on this story.

During their sophomore year, the girls worked with Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark to share surveys about the features of their app with 10 individuals in the hospital's outpatient program, Kret said, and they received positive results.

That year, Kret and Karthic also met with an 18-year-old man undergoing treatment for opioid addiction at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Karthic said. They showed him their app and asked for feedback.

The result, she said, was a good indicator that they were moving in the right direction.

Neither Kret nor Karthic previously had known anyone battling opioid addiction.

"That could have easily been us in his place," Kret said.

This school year, Kret said, she and Karthic plan to gather more feedback about their app design from other patients.

The two also want to introduce a chatroom feature to their app so users have the opportunity to talk to one another. They also plan to add a notification system for medications.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah