Is Innovation the Answer to America’s Opioid Epidemic?


The Food and Drug Administration has approved two generic versions of an innovative drug to treat opioid addiction, increasing available treatment options for Americans fighting addiction.  The move underscores a growing realization among policymakers, regulators and industry: to address the opioid crisis, innovative solutions must be readily available.

The newly approved medication, an under-the-tongue film of buprenorphine and naloxone, reduces withdrawal symptoms.  It’s used in combination with counseling as part of a novel, comprehensive approach called “medication-assisted treatment.”

But in addition to helping those who are addicted, innovation solutions must be available to patients in pain.

Numerous technology-based solutions exist, including continuous peripheral nerve blocks.  These involve inserting a catheter into the patient so he or she can receive a steady infusion of local anesthetic.  Using continuous peripheral nerve blocks in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers is safe, effective and proven to reduce patients’ recovery time.  It also reduces the use of opioids.

Other technology-based solutions also show promise.  For example, an implantable intraspinal drug infusion pump can control pain by directly delivering medicine to a specific area – in this case, the spine.  And the pump uses only about one percent of the amount of an opioid medication required when administered orally.  There’s also neurostimulation, which uses an implanted device to disrupt pain signals before they reach the brain – preventing the need for medication.

These techniques are among those highlighted in a recent white paper from the Alliance for Balanced Pain Management.  The group advocates for policies that support an integrative, comprehensive approach to pain management. The paper identifies five policy strategies for providing more and different options for treating pain, thereby limiting patients’ exposure to opioids and reducing the chance of addiction.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have advised the federal Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Taskforce, which is focused on remedying gaps in managing chronic and acute pain, to support changes that would increase coverage for technology-based solutions like continuous peripheral nerve blocks.  The taskforce is reviewing best practices as well as service, payment and delivery options that could affect the way patients receive pain treatment.  Their recommendations may open doors to a variety of technology-based solutions.

The nation’s current crisis requires new ways of thinking about the problem and novel approaches to treatment. It also demands that patients, both those in pain and those battling addiction, can access innovative solutions that can help turn the tide of America’s epidemic.

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