Organizations have increasingly realized the human and financial costs associated with mental health conditions and substance use disorders in recent years. Given today’s fastpaced, high-pressure work environments, companies must find innovative ways to improve access to treatment and reduce the stigma associated with employees admitting their substance use disorders or mental health issues. Helping companies address this challenge is New Jersey-based Freedom 365, the world’s first interactive, Virtual Recovery System that provides 365-days of addiction support and recovery strategy.

In an interview with Manage HR, Rory McAlister, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Freedom 365, shares his insights on how his company provides a dynamic virtual recovery system that integrates proven methods to help employees and their families tackle substance use disorders.

Could you provide us a brief introduction to the company and what it does?

Today, mental illness and substance use disorders cost organizations in ways they don’t realize. Employees with substance use disorder incur seven times the healthcare costs throughout their lifetime. In addition, workplace costs are substance use related - be it sexual harassment, absenteeism, accidents, or people behaving badly.

Many people don’t get help for it, as it is expensive and inconvenient. Another reason is the stigma associated with it. People who are dealing with substance use disorders or other mental illnesses do not want to talk to another individual about it. They don’t want to jeopardize their career to deal with the issue. Ultimately, it hurts businesses.

Freedom 365 helps companies uniquely tackle these issues. We’ve created a private, low-cost, convenient way to deal with substance use disorder that doesn’t require talking to another person. It allows employees to participate in self-care and learn about the condition on their own. Once a person understands what they are facing, they become open to higher levels of care. In a nutshell, we empower employees to take control of their mental health.

Freedom 365 is designed to lower costs and inconvenience while keeping the stigma at bay. The application takes the content and activities of the substance use recovery program and delivers it in a convenient, interactive 365-day digital experience that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, from any digital device. By supporting the privacy and anonymity of users, Freedom 365 allows people to take the first step by helping them explore if they may have a substance use issue and learning what long-term recovery looks like without publicly outing themselves. This is a massive achievement as it helps people realize the intensity of their problem and access higher levels of care if required. It’s bridging the gap between the high-cost treatment centers and the population that’s getting no recovery support at all.

What are the factors that led to the conception of Freedom 365?

My father, Brian McAlister, the founder of Freedom 365, has been sober since August 1990. In 2007, his sister passed away due to a drug overdose, and despite all the success he had in the private sector after being sober, this incident shook him and our family. He decided to share his story and help people realize how they could make the most of their recovery. He wrote a book titled ‘Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power,’ which became No. 1 in the addiction and recovery category on Amazon. Having worked in marketing all my life, I saw an opportunity to capitalize on the book’s success. Along with my partner Steven McCauley, a former VP at Goldman Sachs, we opened a treatment center called Full Recovery Wellness Center.

Full Recovery Wellness Center is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and is primarily focused on first responders. Frontline workers often experience high levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), are exposed to on-the-job injuries, and demand a high level of privacy. It is important for them to have good insurance to afford the high-quality help they require. However, we realized that so many people couldn’t access our services because of the cost.

Considering that drug addiction is a $1 trillion per year issue, matching 6 percent of America’s GDP and 17 percent of all the U.S. government spending, companies lose nearly $437 billion in productivity due to substance use disorders. The associated healthcare costs stand at around $166 billion. This impacts companies’ bottom line, and the traditional treatment programs were not producing the desired results.

We wanted to help companies take a leap from treatment to early preventive intervention for substance use disorders, and in the process, increase productivity and lower healthcare expenses. This led to the conception of Freedom 365, an app to bridge the gap between those needing behavioral healthcare and those receiving it.

Could you elaborate on some of the features of Freedom 365?

Developed along with the Full Recovery Wellness Center, Freedom 365 empowers employees to manage their mental health with a comprehensive, self-directed 28-day program. It includes over 500 interactive videos, hundreds of self-reflective activities, and a full suite of substance use recovery tools. The app also consists of a support meeting finder that helps users find support groups, such as AA meetings, for users looking for higher levels of care.

From an enterprise standpoint, how is your solution rolled out to the workforce?

Freedom 365 can be integrated with any existing wellness or benefits platform used by a company, creating a seamless experience for the employee. We offer a cost-per-employee per month package, which gives the employee and their family members access to the application. The platform has several proven mental health assessments—some of them being FDA approved—that employees can take themselves. These assessments help employees understand if they are at risk for certain disorders, such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, PTSD, and more. The results from these assessments can be rolled into an aggregated report for the company to better understand their employee’s mental health conditions.

What kind of customer base does your company cater to?

Substance use disorder knows no economic boundaries. From CEOs to janitors, everybody is exposed to it. Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population is dealing with substance use disorders and another 12.5 percent with alcoholism. We are working with police officers, first responders, frontline workers, and medical professionals - all of whom deal with stress every day. They face a lot of trauma and are prescribed highly addictive medicines. We also work with construction workers, where on-the-job injuries are significant due to the operation of heavy machinery. And finally, we work with restaurant industry professionals who often don’t have access to a good medical package and have high deductible healthcare plans. This makes access to treatment even more cost-prohibitive.
How has your company fared through the COVID-19 pandemic?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a turbulent period for many businesses, we have managed to experience significant success. The pandemic has added new challenges to substance use disorder like fear, hopelessness, anxiety, depression, confusion, and boredom. These factors have caused people to develop poor habits or even relapse. In addition, existing patients have stopped taking their medications. This has led to companies looking for innovative ways to bring help and recovery to their employees. To answer this, we have created a recovery coach that users can access 24/7 to search for content related to any issue they may face. Today, millions of people have access to the Freedom 365 app through their benefits package, and hundreds of thousands of people are using it.

What does the future hold for Freedom 365?

We are on track to launch a complete mental healthcare plan, expanding our solutions beyond substance use disorders. We have integrated assessments that look into the overall mental health of the user and provide self-care solutions. We just launched our newest self-care platform for PTSD, which will be followed by one each for depression and anxiety. We have also been working with government agencies in the criminal justice space to add a new feature that puts people through measurable programs instead of incarcerating them. Freedom 365 also has an intuitive backend platform that allows counselors to measure the users’ compliance and follow up with them, making it an interactive counseling platform. The feature provides access to healthcare for people in the criminal justice system and makes the law enforcement officer’s job easier. We realize that substance abuse on campuses gets swept under the rug and are also working with universities on pilot programs to tackle the same.