It’s a sobering reality, Rory McAlister said, that more than 80 percent of substance misusers relapse just 30 days after completing treatment at a facility.
“It’s a big investment to make for very little success,” he said.
That is why he and his father, Brian McAlister, co-founded Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System, an affordable digital solution that greatly expands access to substance abuse services.
“This gives people the opportunity to not only get sober, but to have a personal recovery coach right in their pocket 24 hours a day,” said Brian McAlister, founder, CEO and president of Full Recovery Educational Enterprises, which includes Freedom 365, Full Recovery Wellness Center in Fairfield and his work as an author and motivational speaker.
“People don’t want to drink or get high when they are sitting in a 12-step meeting — it’s the other 23 hours a day that become an issue.”
To reach their goal of helping those who need it most, Rory McAlister said he took the advice of a consultant who recommended they apply for and attend the Health IT Connections program at New Jersey Innovation Institute on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.
The program connects digital health innovators with health care executives and clients in the tri-state area at no cost.
“We saw an opportunity to learn how best to secure additional investments and government funding, hone our pitch and find new avenues of support,” he said.
The results — and the story behind them — are impressive.
Brian McAlister said he began using drugs and alcohol at the age of 14 and continued to do so into his 30s, before surviving a motorcycle accident that put him on the road to rehabilitation and entrepreneurship in 1990.
“The reason I became successful is because I took the same intense, single-minded focus that I used to get drugs and alcohol and figured out how to point that toward my dreams, my family, my business and my finances,” he said. “Now, that is what I teach others to do.”
Rory McAlister said his father published his story, “Full Recovery,” in 2008 before opening the Full Recovery Wellness Center, an ambulatory care facility specializing in addiction treatment, in Fairfield.
“However, we started to realize how people were not accessing addiction treatment because they couldn’t afford it or take time off work and wouldn’t ask their family, employer or insurance company for help because of the stigma attached,” he said. “So, we decided to create a bridge between seeking professional help and getting an education on what recovery from addiction can really mean.”
Treatment at Full Recovery Wellness Center can cost upward of $1,000 per day, Rory McAlister added, but Freedom 365 completely and anonymously removes that barrier.
“It’s very difficult for most people to make the decision to get help when it costs $30,000 and requires them to go away for 30 days,” Rory McAlister said. “We’re trying to make that leap a lot smaller and easier now by providing ways to identify problematic tendencies and addictive behaviors earlier on.”
Freedom 365 provides one year’s worth of clinically proven strategies to help recover from addiction on any mobile device, including an interactive 28-day “Kick Starter” program, Rory McAlister said.
“People who don’t think they have a problem can go through our 28-day course to understand if they need additional help or if they are on the path to success,” he said.
Brian McAlister said more often than not, 28 days isn’t enough.
“If I’ve been taking drugs and drinking for years and you separate me from that by putting me in rehab for 28 days, that’s not enough time to create the new, more empowering habits I’ll need to stay sober long-term,” he said. “That is why this is a 365-day program.”
Freedom 365 can help transition a client from a controlled rehabilitation environment into normal, daily life, Brian McAlister said, by keeping them engaged and delivering verifiable, measurable results to both the client and their support systems.
“We took everything from the content in my father’s book to the information and services provided at Full Recovery Wellness Center and put it into an automated program for a fraction of the cost,” Rory McAlister said.
Clients can utilize functions such as an integrated meeting manager and locator, a customizable “gratitude library,” progress trackers and the design and implementation of a goal-oriented personal action plan for $25 per month through corporate wellness benefits, select government programs or directly through the company’s website.
“We wanted to make recovering from addiction as easy as possible,” Rory McAlister said.
Though Freedom 365 has been in business for three years, it took time to get off the ground, Brian McAlister said.
“I spent the first two years writing the content, filming more than 500 interactive videos, brainstorming, patenting, copywriting, trademarking and more, until we tested it in our center and launched in January of this year,” he said.
The hard work paid off: Nearly 200,000 users currently have access to Freedom 365 through corporate benefits programs alone.
“We just signed a deal with a huge broker, too, that we expect will open the floodgates to nearly 750,000 more users,” Brian McAlister said.
At the moment, Freedom 365 currently employs 30. However, Rory McAlister said the company is preparing for further expansions.
“We have about 50 companies that are currently utilizing our program and are in talks with several states about incorporating into their prison programs,” he said.
That is exactly the kind of future-minded business growth that the Health IT Connections program at NJII looks for in its applicants, said Judith A. Sheft, associate vice president of the technology department, strategic relationships and external affairs at NJIT and senior adviser to the president of NJII.
“Of those companies who participated in our program and reported the data back to us last year, we have had a combined revenue growth of about 27 percent and an employment growth of about 22 percent,” Sheft said.
Funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Small Business Forward program, Health IT Connections has been providing free business coaching, mentorship and strategic partnering for companies with an annual revenue of $100,000 or more for nearly five years.
“Twice a year, we have between 12 and 15 companies participate in a three-month session where they come together every other week to go over different topics, such as business model canvas, how to pitch to investors, leadership development and so forth,” Sheft said. “These are companies who have traction and a need to accelerate what they are doing.”
Led by Michael Ehrlich, associate professor at the NJIT School of Management, the classes also have featured individual speakers from CentraState Healthcare System, Newark Venture Partners, New Jersey Tech Council, Jumpstart NJ Angel Network, Dreamit Ventures, 1099 Partners and more.
“The companies have a chance to speak with our participants about what they are looking for and our participants have a chance to follow-up with the companies afterwards,” Sheft said. “We also bring our companies together a couple times a year to be able to collaborate with others.
“Companies who participate are able to step out of what they are doing on a day-to-day basis, so instead of working in the business they have an opportunity to work on the business and get a broader perspective.”
Freedom 365 recently completed its participation in the program this spring.
“As an entrepreneur who has been developing, testing, and coming up with the content for the program over the last few years, sometimes things start slipping through the cracks,” Brian McAlister said. “This gave us a chance to step back and refocus our priorities.”
One of the most exciting aspects of the program, Rory McAlister said, was being able to meet with other entrepreneurs in the industry to foster potential partnerships.
“For example, we connected with someone working on drug testing for adolescents and we are now creating a juvenile-focused program,” he said. “The program at New Jersey Innovation Institute not only provided us with several opportunities in which to secure additional investments but also outlined a couple of ways in which the companies who came before us have found success — and, when it comes to health care, you start to realize the common denominators that will help everyone to succeed.”
According to Rory McAlister, co-founder of Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System, the cost of employee addiction treatment can range from $10,000 to more than $50,000 — and, with 70 percent of substance misusers currently employed, the workforce is 35 percent less productive.
However, by incorporating Freedom 365 into corporate wellness packages, companies can begin to help lower insurance premiums, including workers’ compensation and prescription drug costs, while increasing productivity.