3 technologies helping to fight the opioid epidemic

Startups are thinking up new and innovative techniques that marry technology with clinical approaches to address the nation's opioid epidemic, CNBC reports.

Here are three technologies that assist physicians in treating opioid-addicted patients or are emerging as alternatives to drugs for pain management.

1. Predictive analytics. Groups, a counseling-focused organization, operates 33 opioid treatment clinics across five states and is combining its physical service with digital technology. It is able to connect patients in rural locations to resources like group therapy, which is led by licensed addiction counselors. The company told CNBC it uses "predictive analytics based on clinical information" to determine if someone is relapsing.

"Using demographic information, drug testing and subjective questions — such as 'How was your week?' — we can accurately predict relapse and intervene, helping folks when they most need it," Groups CEO Jeff DeFlavio, MD, told CNBC.

2. Mobile apps. Pear Therapeutics raised $20 million last year from venture capitalists to build its app reSET-O. After patients receive a prescription and passcode from their healthcare provider, they can tell the app the strength of their cravings and use a rating system to report their anger, pain and loneliness. The data is then shared with their healthcare provider to help them plan an appropriate course of treatment.

"We have randomized clinical trial data showing that reSET-O improves abstinence and retention," said Yuri Maricich, MD, Pear's CMO, who added the digital therapy is designed to accompany opioid agonists and partial agonists like buprenorphine, which minimizes withdrawal symptoms.

3. Virtual reality headsets. Instead of curbing pain with opioids in the first place, some physicians are managing patients' chronic pain with virtual reality. Cedars-Sinai Health Services Research in Los Angeles has conducted multiple clinical trials to determine whether VR can help reduce pain in a safe way. It works by acting as a distraction and shuts down the pain processing pathways in the central nervous system, according to CNBC.

"In hospitals and clinics, especially in the U.S., we are sowing the seeds of opioid addiction by just starting the opioids when they were never needed in the first place," Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai Health Services Research in Los Angeles. He added that patients who used a VR headset reported a 53 percent reduction in pain and that relief persisted for hours or even days after the session.

"It's almost like the brain is temporarily inoculated against the pain," Dr. Spiegel said.

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