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Two non-drug, device approaches to tackling the opioid crisis


As the nation is in the throes of a deadly opioid crisis, Narcan has become a household name for being the lifesaving nasal spray used during an opioid overdose.

However, a panel discussion on the final day of the annual MedTech conference hosted by AdvaMed, the largest advocacy group of the medical device industry in Boston, provided two nondrug approaches to the opioid epidemic. Neither are alternatives to Narcan, of course, but one offers a different option to people suffering from chronic pain who may otherwise choose opioids to deal with the debility and risk becoming addicted. The other is intended for those recovering addicts traversing what could be a lonely journey to be opioid-free.

The latter alternative comes from LifeLine Medical, which is developing a sensor and algorithm-driven product that can be incorporated into an Apple Watch or any other easily available consumer device, explained Chrisitan Haller, founder and CEO of the company.

“Your mind has been rewired by the drugs or alcohol or whatever you have been involved with. You aren’t thinking straight and you don’t have a support group, so what digital health allows you to do is allow you to stay in contact with the right people and also to monitor yourself,” he explained.

He held a black prototype device incorporated with five sensors to help a recovering addict to not fall off the wagon and added that it is the “first personal monitor that can detect opioid, alcohol or marijuana consumption” and it helps people to stay in touch with a clinician, their recovery manager, a loved one or family member. In the event of an emergency, EMTs can be called as well.

“I am surprised how many people have a loved one in the house and they’ve died when they are there,” he said underscoring the relevance of a connected device.

Haller explained that the prototype development device is not meant to be a final consumer product, but rather the five sensors and the algorithms can easily be incorporated into any consumer device.

“We have five commodity sensors  – the magic is all in the algorithms,” he said. “People won’t wear this because [wearing this says] ‘I’m an addict’ so we can put it in an Apple Watch and if Apple won’t play, we can put it in any other popular commercial device out there. They all use the same sensor set.”

While LifeLine Medical and Haller are tapping mobile and digital technologies to offer support to a recovering addict, Avanos Medical and David Curd, the company’s vice president of global clinical affairs, have leveraged pain alleviation technologies to tackle acute and chronic pain, specifically osteoarthritis knee pain.

“The pain pumps [for acute pain] has in its language in the FDA-cleared labeling related to narcotic reduction and that’s based on years of experience and lots of clinical studies,” Curd said of the acute care pain pump products used to reduce post-operative pain.

Avanos also makes the Coolief radiofrequency therapy that is supposed to provide long-lasting relief for chronic knee pain. Curd noted that much of his focus these days is in trying to get more adoption and coverage of the Coolief device for osteoarthritis.

“Some of the marketing research that we did around that shows that on average patients are in pain for nine or 10 years with arthritis before they get to some sort of …[care],” he said.

Individual companies that are developing non-drug solutions to pain and the opioid epidemic can get government support as well. In May 2018, the FDA announced the FDA Innovation Challenge: Devices to Prevent and Treat Opioid Use Disorder. After more than 250 applications were received, eight companies (including Avanos Medical) were selected.

Similar to the breakthrough devices program, FDA will work with these companies to speed up approval/clearance of these products.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health has the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) initiative that invites drug and device companies to help to improve treatments for opioid misuse and addiction and enhance pain management.

Read the HEAL Initiative Research Plan »

Photo: AndreyPopov, Getty Images

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