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Examining outcomes for service users accessing the Breaking Free Online computer-assisted therapy program for substance use disorders via a 'telehealth' approach: protocol for a two arm, parallel group randomized controlled trial.

BACKGROUND: Breaking Free Online (BFO), a computer-assisted therapy (CAT) program for substance use disorders (SUD), has been available across UK treatment services for the past decade and has demonstrated efficacy. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to digital and 'telehealth' approaches to healthcare delivery becoming more common and accepted, and has in parallel, increased numbers of referrals to SUD services because of the impact pandemic-related stress has had on substance using habits in the general population. Digital and telehealth approaches, such as BFO, have the potential to support the treatment system to meet this increased demand for SUD services.

METHODS: Parallel-group randomized controlled trial of eight-week BFO as an adjunct to standard treatment for SUD, in comparison to standard treatment only, at a National Health Service (NHS) Mental Health Trust in North-West England. Participants will be service users aged 18 years and over with demonstrable SUD for at least 12-months. Interventional and control groups will be compared on multiple measures from baseline to post-treatment assessment at eight-weeks, and then three and six-months follow-up. Primary outcome will be self-reported substance use, with secondary outcomes being standardized assessments of substance dependence, mental health, biopsychosocial functioning and quality of life.

DISCUSSION: This study will examine whether BFO and telehealth support, when delivered as an adjunct to standard SUD interventions, improves outcomes for services users receiving NHS SUD treatment. Findings from the study will be used to inform both developments to the BFO program and guidance around augmenting the delivery of CAT programs via telehealth. Trial registration registered with ISRCTN on 25th May 2021-registration number: 13694016.

PROTOCOL VERSION: 3.0 05th April 2022.

TRIAL STATUS: This trial is currently open to recruitment-estimated to be completed in May 2023.

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