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Posted: September 09, 2013

Web application helps probationers deal with substance abuse problems

MAPIT helps probationers stay on-track
in their recoveries.
An online program developed by UNT Health Science Center professor Scott Walters, PhD, and others is helping more than 600 probationers in two of the country's largest court systems meet the terms of their probation and stay motivated in their recovery from substance abuse. 

The MAPIT program, funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is an innovative idea developed by Walters, a professor in the School of Public Health, and colleagues from UNTHSC, Wayne State University, University of Virginia and George Mason University.

The web application, which is being used in Dallas and Baltimore, can recognize patterns in how people respond and make suggestions for strategies that might work for them. MAPIT can even send emails or text messages to remind people of their monthly goals.

"Essentially, MAPIT is the probationer's partner," Walters said. "Using a personal tone, open-ended questions, affirmations and summary feedback, MAPIT was found effective by users in initial studies, who told us that it seems to actually ‘listen' and respond accordingly. They also felt that the anonymous nature of working with a computer was more comfortable than talking face to face with a counselor or probation officer about sensitive issues."

Learn more:
Watch a MAPIT demonstration
on YouTube.

MAPIT uses "Jennifer," a bright, friendly female voice with a non-specific dialect, preferred by users over other voices tested. MAPIT employs "persuasive" technology to change attitudes or behaviors through encouragement rather than coercion.

"About 3.5 million U.S. probationers need substance abuse treatment, but less than half actually complete it," Walters said. "It's a major cost to society. People are being incarcerated simply because they are unmotivated for treatment. So the question is, how can we motivate them to initiate treatment early on, before problems develop."

If you are with the media and need additional information or would like to arrange an interview,
please contact Jeff Carlton, Director of Media Relations, at 817-735-7630.


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