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Harrisburg-area veteran creates an app of hope for those recovering from addiction

Harrisburg-area veteran creates an app of hope for those recovering from addiction

  • Sharina Johnson’s company is developing a tool that uses artificial intelligence to track emotional triggers and offer support to those in recovery.
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In 2005, as her friends back home partied on their 21st birthdays, Sharina Johnson was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. Following her yearlong deployment with the Army Reserve, the need to numb led her to alcohol and drugs.

Sharina, who would go on to found Harrisburg-based Arcana Recovery, Inc., didn’t realize she was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“There was no preparation to how you may respond to traumatic things that might have happened,” she says. “I didn’t even know I had PTSD. It wasn’t really talked about.”

Recovery attempt and relapse

For years she continued using drugs and alcohol until she lost everything–her house, her car, her job.

“I remember having a discussion with the person I was dating, telling her my mind wasn’t right and I’m not sure why,” she says.

In 2018, she landed at the Lebanon Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s inpatient Drug Addiction Treatment Facility. After 10 weeks, she was discharged without any resources. She felt lost again.

She moved to Baltimore and soon relapsed.

“I didn’t know what to do with my life,” she says.

Since childhood, Sharina had relied on herself. But as she tried to claw her way out of addiction, she realized she couldn’t figure it out on her own.

She moved back to Pennsylvania and instead of turning to traditional recovery programs, she began building a network of people who regularly checked in with her. She also developed coping skills that she could turn to in low moments.

For Sharina, shooting hoops helped distract her mind from the hunger of addiction.

Discovering her purpose

As she amassed months of sobriety, Sharina felt a growing desire to use her experiences to help others in recovery. In early 2020, she began working on a mental health app while in the Penn State Idea TestLab program.

After winning first place in Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator, she began developing Arcana and in 2021, connected with the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship Incubator program.

Sharina’s team began developing an app-based tool to connect those in recovery with resources and support. Currently, she is working with a team to develop an algorithm that predicts potential relapse and alerts the user’s support team.

The long-term vision is for the app to help users identify coping skills that work best for them.

Sharina is not a tech developer, so she is learning to rely on others to help her business grow as she navigates being a company founder and gathers venture capital.

“It’s like knowing a different language that isn’t in your circle,” she says.

Seeking testers

In September 2022, Sharina received an investment of $100,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners TechCelerator program and another $100,000 from four local investors, moving her that much closer to her vision taking flight.  

The app is to launch publicly in spring 2023, and Arcana Recovery is looking for beta testers. Eventually, Sharina would love to see the app used in the VA health system to help veterans through addiction and recovery.

“I hope people feel empowered and inspired to go forward with whatever journey aligns with your heart,” Sharina says.