IoT Should Be Used to Tackle the National Opioid Crisis

By: Consuelo Azuaje


On October 26, 2017 President Trump declared the current opioid crisis (which takes an estimated 91 lives in the US daily) a national health emergency. Under the Public Health Service Act, this declaration will direct federal agencies to contribute more grant money to combatting the epidemic and will give states greater flexibility to use federal funds.

The Scope of the Issue

According to recent studies, more than 30% of Americans have some form of acute or chronic pain, and among the older adults, the prevalence of chronic pain is greater than 40%. More than 37% of of the 44 thousand drug-overdose deaths reported in 2013 were attributable to pharmaceutical opioids; heroin accounted for an additional 19%. Opioid addiction affected ~2.5 million adults in 2014. The widespread misunderstanding and misuse of these drugs has largely contributed to this national epidemic.

In response to the crisis, doctors have become increasingly hesitant over the years to prescribe opioids, and although limiting access to habit-forming opioids may help stem future incidences of addiction development, it also limits pain management options for those that struggle with acute and/or chronic pain. Alternatives to opioids for pain management must be more fully promoted and vigorously promoted.

Drug-Free Alternatives for Pain Management

Neuromodulation is an exciting drug-free alternative for pain management. In fact, some experts expect the global neuromodulation devices market to reach $7.1 billion by 2018—up 270% from 2011. According to the American Pain Society, the annual cost of chronic pain totals $635 billion in the US. That’s greater than the combined costs of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy uses a form of neuromodulation technology. NeuroMetrix, a commercial-stage, bioelectrical and digital medicine company, recently developed and released the TENS-based pain management offering, Quell. Quell is five times more powerful than other OTC TENS kit and provides users customizable, automated pain management therapy. 

An IoT-Compatible Task

Although Quell is also highly effective at reducing pain, what makes it exciting and relevant to IoT companies is how it extends far beyond pain reduction to place greater control into users’ hands, and use IoT and big data analytics to bolster pain management and research. By supporting research, Quell contributes to improving to more than just users’ care and quality of life but to improving the industry itself.

Quell offers users a smartphone app for tracking health metrics such as pain, sleep, activity and gait, and device utilization. This app connects to Quell Health Cloud, NeuroMetrix's integrated cloud platform. Being able to view, form, and consume analyses of their own trends empowers users to identify what their personal pain triggers are, maintain awareness of their own activity levels, and better inform medical professionals of how they are doing.

Quell Health Cloud is its IoT and big data component. The cloud database stores users’ demographic and clinical profile and health metrics. With greater than 35 thousand registered users and over 2.5 million hours of anonymized patient data (e.g. demographic and clinical profiles, health profiles), Quell Health Cloud is quickly becoming one of the largest chronic pain databases in the world. While providing customers with real-time guidance to help them make the most of their therapy, it also helps researchers generate insight into better understanding chronic pain at a population level and developing more effective pain management strategies.

Final Thoughts

Tackling substance abuse will require a multi-pronged approach that and we stand at the precipice of a vast field of unique opportunity. Never before has our understanding of addiction’s neurobiology and root causes been more robust—nor our technological ability to address it effectively and affordably. Improper use of opioids has crept insidiously into every corner of the country, and left pain and destruction in its wake. Treatment is important, but prevention is gold. A drug-free option capable of effectively treating acute and/or chronic pain would do wonders for substance abuse prevention, and data-driven approaches to healthcare will be the cutting edge that breaks new ground for research opportunities.

This is an important opportunity for IoT companies to address and create recurring revenue in a largely untapped and compatible market, all the while producing an enormous amount of social good.