How Technology Can Help Resolve the Opioid Epidemic

Haley Bass

The opioid epidemic continues to devastate the United States, with opioid overdoses now taking the number one spot for injury-related deaths. After the president declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” in October 2017, the White House released a report encouraging the use of digital platforms to help prevent and treat this crisis.

Technology can help address the opioid epidemic with a greater reach and focus than traditional methods have been able to accomplish. There are already a variety of digital tools that look at the before, during, and after of opioid use, focusing on prevention, safe use, or addiction recovery.

Preventing Opioid Use

While health professionals have been encouraged to prescribe alternative pain relief treatments (like physical therapy) rather than opioids, there hasn’t been a lot communicated to the public. Preventing opioid abuse is more likely to be successful by discussing the dangers of prescription painkiller addiction with people before injury, rather than waiting until someone gets injured and is desperate for relief.

One platform, the Edification Project, hopes to tackle prevention early, starting in the classroom with young teenagers. The project plans to use virtual reality technology to educate students on the dangers of addiction, as well as demonstrate the consequences of opioid abuse. The Edification Project is currently in testing.

Using Opioids Safely

Opioids can be beneficial for pain relief, but their addictive nature means they need to be prescribed and used cautiously. Safe use needs to fall on both the prescribing health professional and the patient. There are applications currently in development for use by both groups.

Epidemic Solutions is a wearable device that ensures help is immediately available in case of an accidental overdose. The device can detect when someone is overdosing and alert an emergency contact, who can then call first responders or provide the antidote themselves. This antidote, Narcan, reverses the effects of an overdose.

For health professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created a mobile app called the CDC Opioid Guideline Mobile App to offer guidance in safely prescribing opioids to patients. The app’s features include:

  • A Morphine Milligram Equivalent (MME) calculator that gives prescription recommendations
  • Summaries of key recommendations to help health professionals make informed clinical decisions
  • A Motivational Interviewing (MI) feature that helps health professionals practice effective communication skills, making it easier to talk to patients about the risks and benefits of opioid use

Recovering from Opioid Addiction

Just as there are apps and other devices to help people quit smoking, there’s a growing number of digital tools that can help people recover from opioid addiction.
Pear Therapeutics, a company that helps treat various addictions with cognitive behavioral therapy, developed reSET-O to specifically address opioid abuse. The online tool and application combines cognitive therapy, which tackles negative, unwanted thought patterns, with a prescription for Buprenorphone, a drug that helps with opioid addiction recovery. This offers easy access to an on-demand therapy solution.

Another app from Triggr Health helps guide the user’s behavior during recovery, identifying risks of relapse and offering support as needed. The app tracks screen engagement, texting patterns, and red flag words (like craving or stress) to predict a relapse risk. If one of these factors is identified, or the user hasn’t interacted with the app for an entire day, the user is contacted by recovery team or support personnel.

Using digital tools to address opioid abuse offers health professionals and opioid users accessible options to either prevent opioid use, use the drugs safely, or recover from addiction. Combined with the immediacy and remote access, these tools can reach a large group of people, especially in rural areas where addiction can be a larger issue and medical care is less available.

Concentra is tackling opioid abuse by offering a better solution to pain relief: physical therapy. Our active approach to care results in a faster, fuller, long-term recovery without the risk of addiction. Between alternative methods like physical therapy, and digital prevention and recovery tools, we can work together to resolve the opioid epidemic.