New device could help some people quit opioids

November 12, 2018

The BRIDGE device has three sensors that send a message to the brain to stop it from feeling pain.

CHARLESTON — Daniel Tucker, 26, said he can’t remember how many times he tried to quit opioids, but now he’s on his longest stretch of sobriety.

He credits part of his success to a device small enough to fit in the palm of his hand and looks like a hearing aid. It’s called BRIDGE, and St. Francis Hospital’s Addiction Healing Center in Charleston is the first place in West Virginia to use it.

It has sensors placed in and behind the patient’s ear. The device sends a frequency to the brain that stops it from feeling pain.

“It’s doing electronically what an opioid or any pill does chemically,” said Brian Carrico, CEO of Innovative Health Solutions, an Indiana-based medical technology firm that developed the device.

What makes BRIDGE different from some of the other ways to ease withdrawal is that it’s not surgical or pharmaceutical, Carrico said. It sits on the ear for five days and has a battery life of 120 hours. After that time, it shuts off by itself.

The company does 98 percent of its business in outpatient settings. It’s used more often in rural communities where there is a shortage of hospital beds, Carrico said. He added that it allows people to recover comfortably from home.

“It is not recovery, and it’s not treatment,” Carrico said. “It’s the bridge to get you there.”

The company that makes the technology gave St. Francis Hospital 15 devices for a pilot program. Eight patients are using it and seven devices remain. Many of the patients reported feeling relief quickly.

There were three patients who kept it on for less than one day, but they did have some sort of mental illness, nurse manager Candace Whitman-Workman said. She said based on what she saw, it did not seem to work for patients who had that type of illness.

Some patients reported feeling relief after an hour.

Tucker was one of those patients. He said the biggest reasons he couldn’t stay sober was because of the fear of withdrawal and its symptoms.

“At first it’s about getting high, but then you’re just trying to avoid withdrawal,” Tucker said.

Eventually, he reached a point where he knew he had to quit.

“I’d been able to build a professional career despite being an addict, and I ruined it. I was high all the time. I wrecked my brand new car and lost the job of a lifetime,” Tucker said.

Tucker said quitting this time around was the easiest because the device helped with his withdrawal symptoms.

However, that relief comes at a cost. Each BRIDGE is $595 and it’s not reusable. It is insurance eligible, but is not covered yet because it is still new and a second study needs to be done on it, Carrico said.

“We’re still in the process of determining if this is something permanent, and we’d like it to be,” Joseph Deegan, managed care liaison at Thomas Memorial Hospital, said.

Whitman-Workman said the device is worth it. She said it lets patients become more engaged in treatment quicker. Usually they tend to isolate themselves while coping with withdrawal, she said.

“They’re laying in fetal positions in their beds, they’re throwing up and they can’t keep anything down. They’re really, really sick,” Whitman-Workman said.

After seeing patients use the device, she said she noticed that they started showing up to support groups more often.

“We get so little of that precious time with them,” Whitman-Workman said. “If we can get them into groups, 12 hours earlier, a week earlier, it’s worth this device.”

Reach Rebecca Carballo at rebecca.carballo@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @Becca_Carballo on Twitter.

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