It’s a story all too common for Americans. They’re upstanding citizens, leading normal lives. Raising kids, paying taxes, ball games, and cookouts. Then one day a bad surgery or traffic accident requires pain medication. Months pass, and that average upstanding citizen is an opiate addict, so dependent on the painkillers they can’t function without them.
Because opioids change the way our brains understand pain, they are very effective in treating pain and making life livable for millions struggling with chronic pain. But, also because of their effectiveness, they can be very addictive. And, sometimes, they can be deadly. The more people use the drug, the more tolerance they build up. Eventually, they are taking an unsafe amount just to keep up with the “need.” The situation in the United States is epidemic. According to the CDC, more than 90 people die from opioid overdoses every day.
While the medical community struggles to manage this growing problem, some in the tech sector are looking for solutions. For example, there’s a device from SPR Therapeutics called the Sprint PNS System.
The Sprint sends small electrical pulses to affected nerves, a process that offers pain relief without drugs, surgery or a permanent implant. This device is affixed to the skin using a patch, and it is connected to a wire that drives the electrical pulses. Like the more permanent spinal cord stimulation devices, the wires are inserted by a physician to deliver pulses to the nerves causing the pain.
Right now, these devices are only in the trial phase. While the FDA has okayed the products, they have yet to be rolled out commercially. Patients in the trial reported a dramatic drop in pain, many going from a “10” to a “2” when using the system. In fact, up to 72 percent of patients in the study said their pain dropped by 50 percent or more.
That’s not to say the device – or others like it currently being developed – are a guaranteed home run. The fact of the matter is, even if the devices are approved, they could be a long way from public acceptance. Getting something new into the hands of doctors who will be willing to offer it to patients is one uphill battle. Sometimes, new medical devices, especially in the pain-relief field, can be difficult to get insurance companies to cover.
Without doctor buy-in and insurance company support, manufacturers are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to getting their products in the hands of the patients who would benefit the most. So, while next-gen pain relief tech has taken the first step, the journey is far from done.
Robert Gillings is an award winning writer, producer, actor architectural designer, philosopher and financial consultant.