Could This New Device Offer Pain-Free Heroin and Opioid Withdrawal?

By Dorri Olds 07/22/16

The groundbreaking behind-the-ear device is designed to help users in the initial stage of kicking narcotics. 

Could This New Device Offer Pain-Free Heroin and Opioid Withdrawal?
via Innovative Solutions

Innovative Health Solutions (IHS), a company based in Versailles, Indiana, has a bridge to sell you. No, really. 

The BRIDGE is a newly invented ear device by IHS that aims to remove physical pain for opiate addicts during detox and withdrawal. It’s the first non-narcotic alternative, but this is not a long-term solution. It is a tool for addicts to get through the first five days of withdrawal. After that, many addicts will still have to struggle with the emotional compulsion to use, so this isn’t the magic bullet for long-term abstinence. 

After detox and withdrawal, many addicts will still face the issue that got them hooked in the first place: chronic physical pain. The BRIDGE is not claiming to address that; its sole purpose is to aid drug users in the initial stage of kicking narcotics so they can then pursue the usual options toward lasting recovery. 

The Fix contacted Brian Carrico, vice president of IHS, to learn more about what the BRIDGE can and cannot do.

“It’s a peripheral nerve stimulator,” Carrico said. “It targets cranial nerves and blocks pain signals. The device affects the brain—the hypothalamus and the amygdala.”


Carrico made it clear that the device is only for withdrawal from opiates including heroin, Suboxone, methadone and Opana (oxymorphone), and all opioid pain pills—hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl. 

According to Carrico, a recent multi-center study* found 89.7% of patients made it through their detox and were well enough to enter week two of treatment. “It treats the physical withdrawal so then the patient can move on to counseling or Vivitrol or Naltrexone,” said Carrico. “Tests show that the failure rate is less than one quarter of 1%.”

The cost of the device is $495, but for those that can’t afford it, IHS is “close to obtaining funding,” said Carrico. “Insurance companies are not yet covering the cost because we only just earned FDA approval.” But the company is working on that too. Carrico said IHS is getting enthusiastic responses from many commercial insurance companies. 

According to the Indianapolis IndyStar, Dr. Palmer MacKie, director of the Integrative Pain Program at Eskenazi Health (who has no connection to Innovative Health Solutions) said IHS has “improved the delivery system … From the information I have seen both on pain and addiction, I think there’s room for optimism about the device. But I don’t think anything will revolutionize addiction or chronic pain management.”

WKRC Cincinnati spoke to nurse practitioner Katrina Lock of Florence Medical Group and Rising Sun Modern Medicine who has been using the BRIDGE with addicts. “My patients are absolutely amazed by it,” she said. “The ones that have used it couldn't be more thankful for it. It has really taken them from a point of hopelessness to where they're very hopeful for getting clean and sober, sometimes for the first time in their life.”

The Fix spoke with Arturo C. Taca, Jr., MD, an addictionologist board-certified in addiction medicine, and the president of the Midwest chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), who worked directly with Carrico and engineers to design the device.

“When we first saw that it worked so well and so quickly, we knew this was groundbreaking and that we’d witnessed medical history,” Dr. Taca told The Fix. "I can tell you there is nothing like the BRIDGE. This is going to be a game-changer for how we treat opiate withdrawal. It’s so important because we’re in the middle of an unprecedented opiate epidemic and those addicted are afraid to endure withdrawal symptoms so they put off quitting. 

“Now we can make the pain go away by detoxing people in a non-addicting way with no narcotic medications. No buprenorphrine or methadone. The protocol we designed is to get them on the BRIDGE and then transition them to Vivitrol, the once-monthly extended-release injectable formulation of naltrexone, a drug that reverses the affects of opioids and is used to fight opioid dependence.”

*The study Carrico referred to has not yet been published but he said it will be in a peer-review medical journal within the next 60 days. 

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.