Can new devices and strategies help quell the opioid crisis?

Tue, 2017-02-07 10:15 -- Compassionate C...

Some battles must be fought on several fronts -- and the battle against opioid addiction and the deaths and destruction it causes seems to be one of them. What's encouraging, as you'll read below, is that from the streets to labs to hackathons, aggressive efforts are under way to find solutions to quell the crisis and save lives. – Philip Bane

The 2017 list of the top 10 healthcare technologies to watch put out by ECRI Institute, an independent nonprofit that researches approaches to improving patient care, examines topics it says are poised to affect care delivery in the next 12 to 18 months. The goal is to give health leaders evidence-based perspectives on new and emerging innovations.

No. 2 on its 2017 list is opioid addiction and the question: Can technology predict risks of addiction and relapse? The report indicates that yes technology can do those things, mentioning such things as new genetic tests to identify those most at risk of opioid addiction so opioids aren't prescribed for them in the first place -- to biosensors that addicts wear to detect relapse episodes.

A study led by Stephanie Carreiro of the University of Massachusetts Medical School tested the use of wristband biosensors worn by a group of patients in an emergency room who were receiving opioids for severe pain relief. The biosensors allowed the researchers to detect how the patients' bodies reacted to the dosages and to identify patterns.

A press release on the study suggests biosensors could help monitor developing opioid tolerance and identify people who are at risk for substance abuse or addiction. They could also be applied to opioid addicts in rehabilitation to detect whether they are relapsing. Such relapse data can either be reviewed retrospectively or transmitted wirelessly to trigger an intervention (for example to alert a family member or a community support system).

Wearables to relieve pain
Wearable devices may serve another purpose in the battle to help beat opioid addiction. According to a CNBC report, there is a growing class of FDA-approved medical devices designed to relieve chronic pain without drugs. Some are threadlike wires that need to be implanted; others are worn outside the body like a patch.

"The technology wasn't available in the past, because the electronics weren't able to be made small enough," said Laura Perryman, the chairman and CEO of Stimwave, a company that manufactures a tiny implantable device to treat chronic pain. She told CNBC that thanks to advances in the cellphone industry, today electronics are smaller, more sophisticated and more affordable.

A role for predictive analytics
In Michigan, writes Sharif Hussein on the Med City News site, they've built a proof-of-concept for an addiction-identification tool that analyzes Medicaid claims for signs of opioid abuse at both the prescriber and patient level. The idea is to identify "outliers" that may indicate addiction.

"Some of the key data elements that are analyzed are individuals that visit numerous pharmacies and prescribers, early prescription refills, prior non-opioid substance abuse/dependence diagnoses, mental health-related diagnoses and demographic information," Hussein writes. The data sources are curated using a BigInsights solution from Council Lead Partner IBM.

Bottom line, the solution allows for the real-time prediction and flagging of medical claims for further manual review by the state’s case management team. "This predictive analysis could ideally prevent an addiction before it begins -- and hold irresponsible prescribers accountable," Hussein adds.

Community-based approaches
Last fall the GE Foundation with the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies and Massachusetts General Hospital hosted a hackathon to come up with ideas to battle the opioid epidemic. A story in Boston University's Daily Free Press discussed two of the winning ideas:

  • We Are Allies wants to equip citizen volunteers with an easy to administer spray version of the anti-overdose drug naxolone, to be carried in distinctive bright purple pouches. The team believes getting naxolone into more hands will increase the likelihood someone will be around to help in the event of an overdose.
  • General Emergency Medical Supplies Boxes team was thinking along the same lines. Its winning idea is to provide the overdose reversal medication in public spaces, thus turning bystanders into first responders.

A new document from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness offers five strategies that communities, providers and policymakers can use to address what it calls the intersection of the opioid crisis and homelessness. It also highlights a number of resources developed by a number of partners to support their efforts.

"We know that connecting people experiencing homelessness to safe and stable housing through a Housing First approach can improve their ability to address their health and behavioral health challenges, including substance use disorders," the agency report states. "To support that work, there are a host of new resources being deployed to help communities specifically combat opioid use disorders (OUDs) and opioid misuse. Download the document >

Related resources:
Why we need better data and analytics to combat the opioid epidemic
How dashboards, analytics and e-prescribing battle opioid addiction


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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