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SOS280 Spots Substance Abuse Through a Social Lens


SOS280 Spots Substance Abuse Through a Social Lens

Abhinav and Cheluvi Potineni are not married. They’re brother and sister. He’s a 16-year-old junior at Rockridge High School in Loudoun County, Virginia; she’s a 13-year-old from nearby Stone Hill Middle School. Like a lot of young folks the pair is into Social Media Influence. But these two aren’t interested in influencing what others buy or where they hang out; they’re interested in saving lives. The tag team even came up with an app for that. It’s called SOS280 and it’s perhaps the smartest way to spot substance abuse that’s ever been invented.

No foolin.’

The SOS280

The app happens to be the figurehead for an entire initiative. The SOS 280 Substance Abuse Prevention Initiative to be precise. Team Potineni says the aim is to to combat community substance abuse by forecasting and/or identifying potentially harmful behavior. They also want to offer early stage support. Since their youth demographic seemed especially vulnerable to addiction and dependency, they built a free Machine Learning (ML) based mobile application designed specifically for that segment.

The move happened to be personal too.

According to WTOP News Digital Editor/Reporter Valerie Bonk, the idea sparked after the brother/sister tag team learned the relative of a family friend was struggling with performance-enhancing drugs.

“When we heard that story, we were really shook,” Cheluvi told Bonk. “[So] we decided that something had to be done.”

Said something was an app that uses Twitter and Instagram to flag posts that may indicate substance abuse. The app’s name refers to Twitter’s 280 character Tweet limit. Its algorithms identify troublesome keywords, including street slang and drug synonyms.

And then?

“It will send out a message saying, hey, this person who identified you as a trusted contact said that they’re potentially at risk of a substance abuse situation,” said Abhinav.

“The overall function of the app is to prevent substance abuse situations using machine learning,” he continued. “Then [to] notify the family members if [their loved one is] potentially at risk.”


But an app only works if it’s got people who use it. That means exposure. In this case, it also meant the Congressional App Challenge.

The Congressional App Challenge

Virginia’s District 10 Congressional App Challenge (run by Rep. Jennifer Wexton) is part of the nationwide Congressional App Challenge. The program is “designed to engage student creativity and encourage their participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education fields.” This particular division though proved to be especially formidable.

How else to explain the SOS280 app only winning third place? Not that there’s anything wrong with third, mind you. But for a life-saving, behavior-forecasting app not to win outright indicates some extremely heady competition.

Heady is right. The first place app went to Thomas Jefferson High School students Sauman Das, Sameer Gabbita, Arnav Jain and Vishal Kothka for an app called Ichos. What’s it do? Well, it’s “designed to offer access to healthcare for resource-poor health systems.”

The win means the Ichos team gets to present their app at the Congressional House Challenge’s all-star #HouseofCode this spring. Yep, right atop Capitol Hill.

The second place winner was no slouch though either. That prize went to Bridging Up, which was created by Max Wang and Michelle Wang. This app is designed to “eliminate toxicity by promoting understanding and dissuading attention-seeking behavior,” claim its creators. It’s also meant to serve as “a platform that focuses on building communities instead of tearing them down.”

Between Ichos, Bridging Up and SOS280, we don’t see how the judges ever came up with a first, second and third. We’re just glad we didn’t have to make the decision.

Placement Matters

At the end of the day though, place doesn’t matter — placement does. And the SOS208 app is currently available on Google Play. Word is it should soon also be available in the Apple App Store.

Equally important, the app is now featured in the addiction survivor toolkit of the three-million strong To Write Love on Her Arms. No surprise considering the the siblings keenly partnered with — and sought design feedback from — Faces and Voices of Recovery, which itself has a 23-million-strong reach. Nor is it a surprise to learn the app will be soon featured on the Faces blog site.

In fact, after all this, we’re almost not even surprised Team Potineni also runs its own nonprofit. Yep, that’s right. Another entire entity. It’s called Coding Made Accessible. And its purpose is to bridge STEM’s gender, diversity and socioeconomic gaps.

It’s a terrific idea. Timely too. So terrific and timely that it’s already partnered with the Howard County Housing Commission, Anne Arundel County Housing Commission and the Housing Authority of the City of Frederick. We suspect though that these three Maryland housing authorities are simply the beginning. A great big beginning.

To see that kind of top notch talent only come in third leads us to believe there must be something seriously smart in the D.C. area’s water supply system. Heck, even the story’s original reporter has a Bachelor’s, a Master’s and a Law Degree!


Saluting SOS280

Healing Properties wholeheartedly salutes Abhinav Potineni and Cheluvi Potineni, not just for the SOS280 (though there is that), or even Coding Made Accessible (though there is that too). No we salute the team for paving the way toward a brighter, smarter, more inclusive new day. In other words, we salute both brother and sister for being who they are. That is, remarkable.

We also salute the two showing the world how everyone could be, given the chance. No, we don’t mean cookie cutter images of the brother and sister; we mean inspired and learned leaders of the next generation. More, we salute the two for using their know-how in order to give others just that chance. Can you imagine Coding Made Accessible everywhere? The possibilities boggle the mind.

Well, they boggle our mind anyway. It’s highly unlikely they boggle the siblings’ minds. In fact, it’s highly unlikely anything ever boggles their bright and shining minds. We sure enjoy watching them put those minds to such great good use though. We enjoy even more watching the consequent impact. Why? Because the future seldom gets any brighter.

If you or a loved one is battling substance abuse — or if you even believe the risk is present — please seek help. Look into SOS280. Call a friend or family member. Heck, you can even call us here. We’ll get you sorted. In the meantime, thank your lucky stars our future is getting brighter by the idea.

(Image: Pixabay)

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