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The TECH App - Reducing Marijuana Use Among Justice-Involved Teens

Development and Preliminary Testing of an Adjunct Smartphone App to Reduce Marijuana Use in Court-Involved, Non-Incarcerated Adolescents

Due to juvenile justice (JJ) capacity constraints, court-involved, non-incarcerated (CINI) youth are often referred out for treatment and encounter multiple barriers to community care. Technology-assisted interventions would enable the JJ system to treat CINI youth in-house, without overextending its workforce or resources.

Smartphone apps are an ideal treatment platform for teens, yet the potential of smartphone apps as a means of reducing marijuana use in high-risk youth has not been realized. In this project, the principal investigator aims to establish the needs and preferences of CINI youth ages 14-17 for an adjunctive smartphone app, examine the app’s feasibility and acceptability, and establish its preliminary efficacy. The Teen Empowerment through Computerized Health (TECH) app, which targets putative intrapersonal and interpersonal mechanisms to promote marijuana-related behavior change, will serve as an adjunct to treatment-as-usual in the local family court. Following the Behavior Intervention Theory model, qualitative interviews with key stakeholders (n=30) will inform how clinical goals (knowledge, skills, motivation) will map on to TECH usage goals (goal-setting, peer networking), features (expert-moderated forum, notifications) and workflow. Next, 10 CINI youth will beta test the TECH prototype for one month, to guide its refinement. Finally, a pilot randomized control trial with 60 CINI youth will test the app for six months as an adjunct to treatment as usual on MJ and other SU-related outcomes, putative mechanisms of change (i.e., intrapersonal and interpersonal factors) and high-risk behaviors.

Principal investigator Sarah Helseth, PhD, will work with an accomplished, multidisciplinary mentorship team (Anthony Spirito, PhD; Nancy Barnett, PhD; Sara Becker, PhD; and Melissa Clark, PhD) to master four relevant areas of training:

  1. Effective MJ and SU interventions for CINI youth
  2. Interpersonal mechanisms of adolescent SU
  3. Development of technology-assisted behavioral interventions
  4. Qualitative methods for treatment development

Completion of this study has the potential to advance the field by demonstrating the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary efficacy of an adjunct technology-assisted intervention to improve outcomes among high-risk, marijuana-using CINI youth.

Project Details

  • Dates: March 2020 – February 2025
  • Funding source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Grant number: K23DA048062


  • Principal investigator: Sarah Helseth, PhD
  • Project staff: Hiring in spring 2023