7 Emerging Devices That Could Curb Opioid Use and Improve Chronic Pain Management

Advances in medtech aim to tackle chronic pain and combat the opioid epidemic that is spreading across the United States.

  • Opioid use in the United States continues to rise as patients with chronic pain issues desperately search for treatment options to help manage extreme levels of pain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die from opioid overdose every single day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the United States totals more than $78 billion each year.

    Opioids have become an effective way for patients to manage pain, as the substance works on the nervous system in the body, dulling specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, opening the floodgates for widespread use—and the eventual misuse—of these incredibly potent drugs.

    In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, including prescription opioids, heroin, and a powerful synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. Furthermore, overdose deaths from opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999, with over half of the overdose deaths in 2014 resulting from prescription opioids, according to a CDC study.

    These harrowing numbers have led to a public health crisis that is crying out for improved access to treatment, overdose-reversing drugs, and cutting-edge technologies that can help patients better manage chronic pain without risking drug abuse. To that end, we’ve outlined some of the biggest emerging technologies aimed at combatting the opioid crisis, and hopefully helping patients effectively manage chronic pain in healthier ways.

    [Image courtesy of STEVEPB/PIXABAY]


  • A new spinal cord stimulation device has shown significant promise in reducing chronic pain for patients, following a study by St. Jude Medical. The small battery-powered transmitter delivers signals through electrical leads implanted along the spinal cord to disrupt pain messages traveling from nerves to the brain.

    The study looked at over 5000 patients who had the device implanted and compared their opioid prescriptions before and after implantation. One year after the implant, 93% of patients who continued the spinal cord stimulation therapy reported lower average daily morphine-equivalent doses than the patients who had the spinal cord stimulation system removed.

    [Image courtesy of ST. JUDE MEDICAL (NOW ABBOTT)]

  • Stimwave, an industry leader in wireless medical device technologies, this spring announced FDA approval of their new miniature peripheral nerve stimulator system for the relief of severe chronic pain of peripheral origin. The new system was designed to provide relief to peripheral nerves through an implantable device placed next to peripheral nerve locations where pain originates.

    Stimwave’s new system is the world’s first wireless, fully programmable neuromodulation device, and will enable the use of wirelessly powered neurostimulators that can provide pain relief to upper and lower extremities throughout the body. The device could serve as a breakthrough for people who suffer from severe chronic pain in a variety of different extremities, providing a minimally invasive solution that doesn’t require opioid narcotic treatment for pain management.

    [Image courtesy of STIMWAVE]

  • Imagine opioid addicts having the ability to turn off the painful process of detox. That’s what a new device, known as the Neuro-Stim Bridge System, offers patients attempting to quit opioid addictions. The device, roughly the size of a half dollar, fits behind the ear and sends electrical feedback to the brain that can block the painful symptoms of withdrawal, making it easier for opioid addicts to endure the brutal early stages of quitting an addiction.

    The device was specifically designed to stimulate the parts of the brain that control the perception of pain through a battery-operated chip that sends impulses to specific nerves to block pain. The device has already shown significant promise in trials, with almost 90% of patients who used the device reporting a successful first week of detox, and making it into secondary therapy.

    [Still image from video courtesy of INNOVATIVE HEALTH SOLUTIONS]

  • When it comes to facing opioid addiction, healthcare workers are often faced with the grim reality of patient overdose. A new device from Kaleo Pharmaceuticals aims to help caregivers and first responders with an auto-injection system known as Evzio, a device that produces a medication that can revive patients who have overdosed on opioids.

    The device provides patients with an injection of naloxone, a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of opioids to help keep a patient breathing until emergency medical assistance can arrive. Autoinjectors are now now being explored by other device manufacturers as the industry looks to produce a range of highly intuitive devices that can use naloxone to help curb opioid overdose.

    [Still image from YouTube video courtesy of KELLEYROSSGROUP]

  • SPR Therapeutics, a medical device company based out of Ohio that specializes in chronic pain management, has developed a peripheral nerve stimulation technology known as the SPRINT PNS system. The technology uses mild electrical pulses to stimulate specific nerves to provide targeted pain relief, without the need for anesthesia, surgery, or any kind of permanent implant.

    The system uses a small wearable stimulator connected to a thread-like wire that delivers the tiny electrical pulses to the nerves. The wire lead is implanted for just 30 days, and can be done by a trained physician without the need for surgery. The company hopes that the system will help eliminate the need for opiate drug therapies by providing patients with a minimally invasive therapy option for chronic and acute levels of pain.

    [Image courtesy of SPR THERAPEUTICS]

  • With opioid addiction rates on the rise, one potential solution aims to stop opioid abuse before it even begins. Several different companies have begun to develop genetic tests that can calculate a patient’s likely response to opioids, providing physicians with the ability to analyze genetic indicators that can account for opioid dependence.

    San Diego-based company Pathway Genomics was among the first to develop a blood-based test, supported by scientifically validated genetic testing technologies, that can provide physicians with a personalized treatment plan for pain medication—steering patients with a possible genetic predisposition to opioid dependence away from potential opioid abuse.

    [Image courtesy of PATHWAY GENOMICS]

  • Naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is arguably the most crucial tool that can help combat deaths from opioid abuse. To help spread the use of the naloxone, the FDA launched the Naloxone App Competition in 2016, a competition aimed at developing a mobile app that could help accelerate the delivery of naloxone to people experiencing an opioid overdose.

    After 45 different entries were submitted, the competition awarded first prize to Pwrdby, a small startup from Venice, California for their app OD Help. OD Help works to connect potential opioid overdose victims with a crowd-sourced network of naloxone carriers. The app comes with a breathing interface to help users detect when a victim’s breathing rate is dangerously low, a common sign of opioid overdose. If the app detects a diminished breathing level, it will alert a naloxone carrier.

    The app also provides simple instructions on how to correctly diagnose an overdose, as well as a how-to on administering naloxone. If a user identifies a potential overdose, the app also offers a quick option to contact emergency medical services that can send help immediately.

    [Still image from YouTube video courtesy of PWRDBY]

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