The opioid crisis has affected many countries around the world for decades. America in particular is experiencing things even worse than before – statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that drug deaths in the United States increased by 21% in 2016 from 52,000 the previous year to nearly 64,000. With about two-thirds of those overdoses coming from opioid abuse and most treatments not covered by insurance, bold innovative startups are doing something about it.
It Can Happen Anywhere, to Anyone
Interestingly enough, this opioid issue is not limited to the working class who live in rural areas. During the White House Opioid Summit, Eric Bolling, a former host of Fox News, revealed his 19-year-old son overdosed on opioids. The incident happened just hours after Bolling was let go due to allegations of sexual harassment.
“(The) ‘Not my kid’ syndrome is terrible. ‘Not my kid’ syndrome is a killer, because you just don’t know. It could very well be your kid,” he confessed. “Opioids are the unbiased killer of our most precious commodity, our children,” Bolling continued. “Opioids kill athletes, straight-A students, white, Hispanic, black, rich, poor, gay, straight, girls and boys alike.”
The CDC revealed that to this day, majority of people still think the opioid problem lies only with young white people living in suburban and rural America. However, data shows how death rates have risen especially in black Americans, especially those who live in urban areas. The New York Times concurs, with an analysis showing black people aged 45 to 64 are the most affected by this. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse had a study revealing how older black Americans had a sharp increase in overdose death rates.
Analysts believe one of the reasons behind the alarming statistics mentioned is that older black men, previously having beaten their heroin addiction from the 1970s, now turned to opioids because of fentanyl’s potency.
Fentanyl is often used as pain medication, and can be used via injection or as a skin patch, with effects lasting anytime between 30 minutes to two hours.
Another alarming fact is that media coverage also often skips reporting a demographic that’s profoundly affected by opioids: Native Americans. The CDC found that as of 2014, this group had the highest opioid death rate.
“Prevention centers save more money than treatment,” said Leon Leader Charge, member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge, SD. “It’s hard for our people to complete 30-day treatment centers and then go back to the same communities. Chances of recovery are slim or lower if you don’t have long-term, sober-living facilities.”
Having worked in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Charge said sobriety becomes difficult if people are in unsupportive environments – ones that lack programs, counselors, and other resources.
Keith Humphreys, a Stanford drug policy expert, stated that to address this ongoing opioid crisis there is the need for major action and support. “Crises in a nation of 300 million people don’t go away for $1 billion,” he explained. “This is the biggest public health epidemic of a generation. Maybe it’s going to be worse than AIDS. So we need to go big.”
Bold Innovators Leading Opioid Fight
There are six states that declared opioid addiction as a public health emergency last year: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia. While only six out of 50 states declared this, it is still an alarming thing – the first count of fentanyl deaths as of 2016 revealed a 540% rise in three years. Many of these deaths are even connected to prescription opioids, but many also came from heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogue.
With these disturbing statistics, people are finally taking bold action. Florida in particular passed a legislation in March 2017 that restricts certain opioid prescriptions to three days. It also authorized $53.5 million for prevention efforts and treatment. Lumina Analytics, based in Tampa, created real-time data analytics tackling the prevention of overdoses. etectRx, based in Gainsville, created a smart pill with a wireless sensor that tracks if patients took their prescribed medication and if they did so properly.
There are many other alternative startups working on aiding or fixing the opioid issue, or at least address pain – the main reason people turn to opioids in the first place:
Based in Fremont, California, the company created an FDA-cleared pain relief system called iovera – their Focused Cold Therapy targets pain directly.
- Prospira PainCare
Based in Mountain View, California, the company’s pain management services leverages a wide network of partnered physicians to offer individualized care for people suffering from chronic or acute pain.
- Centrexion Therapeutics
Based in Boston, Massachusetts, the company creates non-opioid drug therapies that treat severe chronic pain. Through their STRATI technology, the East Coast startup developed a capsaicin-based alternative – capsaicin is a natural painkiller commonly found in chili peppers.
Based in Seattle, Washington, the startup developed natural, opioid-free therapeutics that work as painkillers. Their lead product comes from a venom sourced from a small cone snail found in the Caribbean Sea.
- SPR Therapeutics
Based in Beachwood, Ohio, the company’s peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) platform technology helps treat chronic and acute pains. They are also developing other neurostimulation pain therapies that may eventually target post-surgical pain, neuropathic pain, and musculoskeletal pain.
- Axial Healthcare
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, this pain management solutions company has four software products that facilitate connecting patients with physicians, health insurers, and pain clinics.
Based in Houston, Texas, the company is developing pain relievers for localized pain management specifically for inflammation, wounds, and post-procedures, without the use of opiates. Their lead product is a fast-acting topical analgesic, best used in minor dermatological procedures.
- Concentric Analgesics
Based in San Francisco, California, the company develops localized therapeutics for pain from cancer, surgery recovery, and chronic osteoarthritis. They have water-soluble compounds that turn into active painkillers once the user metabolizes them.
- Hinge Health
Based in San Francisco, California, this company created a wearable device connected to their software, helping manage chronic pain for people with musculoskeletal disorders.
There are many other bold innovations out there, either similar to the aforementioned, or even focusing on addiction management. Clearly, the US is taking this opioid epidemic seriously, and startups from coast to coast are doing more than their fair shares to help address – and maybe eventually eradicate – this decades-old issue.