Can tech replace painkillers?

Can tech replace painkillers?
From Engadget - July 10, 2017

For Jennifer, Quell offered an easy, effective path away from a reliance on opioids. And Quell joins an ever-growing list of tech-based alternatives to prescription painkillers.

Finding other options can be hard in a market saturated with opioids. A 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Press found that 100 million adults in the US suffer from chronic pain, with the national costs tied to the condition hitting up to $630 billion annually. Of course, these kinds of numbers are attractive to pharmaceutical companies making millions of pain pills.

Some groups have been fighting against the emphasis on opioids. For instance, states like Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio have each filed lawsuits against companies that produce the most prevalent opioid out there: oxycodone. That being said, opioids are not going away anytime soon.

Companies like NeuroMetrix ca not exactly make a huge dent in the painkiller market, but they can be part of a larger trend, moving the conversation away from drugs and toward tech-based treatments.

Devices that rely on electrical stimulation to treat pain are not new. The first transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device was patented in 1974. Using electrical currents to excite parts of the nervous system, TENS devices usually connect to the wearer through electrodes that suction onto the skin. The electrodes are wired to a portable battery pack that is used to modulate the frequency of the electrical currents.

One problem with these devices -- which can be bought at common drug stores like CVS -- is that they only work for about 20 to 30 minutes per day. These are great for short-term, localized pain relief but are not necessarily helpful for long-term treatment.

NeuroMetrix President and CEO Shai N. Gozani said that his device is most effective because it provides a noninvasive, long-lasting solution for those with chronic pain.

"The electrical stimulation activates your body's endogenous opioids. You know, we actually have these opioids in our nervous system that naturally block pain. The electrical stimulation over the long term induces your body to produce these endogenous pain modulators, which creates pain relief in a very safe and nonaddictive way," Gozani said. "That is the concept that is central to our Quell platform: safe and nonaddictive."

Gozani's work started as postdoctoral research in 1996 -- he holds an MD from Harvard and a PhD in Neurobiology from University of California, Berkeley -- and it was not until 2011 when development started on the actual wearable. The first iteration officially launched in the form of an FDA-regulated device prescribed by a physician. While this version of the device proved successful, Gozani's real vision was for an accessible, over-the-counter product. Hence, Quell was born, hitting the market in June 2015.

"There's a lot of snake and oil to a lot of products out there, but I am a physician. I am trained."
"'FDA cleared' ... does not mean there are any studies supporting effectiveness."


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