From 2001 to 2015, the number of Americans who died from overdosing on opioids--the addictive painkilling narcotics made from opium or its chemical analogs--more than quadrupled, to 22,589, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from the illicit and powerful opioid heroin increased more than sevenfold over that span, to nearly than 13,000. "Right now, it's too easy to access highly addictive opioids that are killing people, and too difficult to access the treatments for opioid addiction," says Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Drugs like buprenorphine treat addiction, and naloxone reverses overdoses, but these treatments are often not covered by insurance providers. Enter a wave of startups creating innovative ways to aid people battling opioid addiction, thus taking on one of the gravest health challenges of our time.
Triggr makes an app that monitors phone use to determine when someone recovering from addiction is most at risk. For instance, it will notice an atypical flurry of texts in the middle of the night and (without reading those messages) send a check-in message to ensure that the texter is OK. It also uses cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help identify the best therapy for those fighting addiction, assists them in finding doctors to prescribe anti-opioid medication, and checks in with them between appointments with addiction counselors.
Founders John Haskell, Bong Koh, and Brian Lai
Year founded 2014
Funding $4.2 million
Chrono is finalizing a patch that helps patients overcome nicotine addiction, and is making a similar patch for those addicted to opioids. Both products are still in clinical trials; a rep for Chrono said the opioid-related patch won't come to market before the smoking-cessation product, which is expected to be available in early 2019.
Founder Guy DiPierro
Year founded 2014
Location Hayward, California
Funding $87.6 million
Groups is very simple: For $65 a week, it offers group therapy in areas plagued by opioid addiction--targeting towns with fewer than 10,000 residents and little access to recovery programs--so people at different stages of recovery can learn from one another. It also prescribes Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, which is used to treat addiction. Its first location opened in New Hampshire; the company has since expanded to California, Indiana, Maine, and Ohio. The company says that after working with Groups for six months, 95 percent of patients attend counseling each week and 85 percent abstain from opiates.
Founders Jeff de Flavio, Silas Howland, and Joy Sun
Year founded 2014
Location New York City
Last May, SPR won a $6 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop its non-opioid pain-relief therapy--the Sprint Peripheral Nerve Stimulation System. It uses a small device that generates low-voltage electrical pulses to stimulate nerves, and thus provides targeted pain relief without opiates or surgical intervention. The DOD-funded research will target the use of Sprint specifically for amputees suffering from moderate to severe neuropathic pain--chronic pain typically caused by nerve damage.
Founder Maria E. Bennett
Year founded 2010
Funding $65 million
Braeburn manufactures Probuphine, a long-acting prescription implant that provides those who are addicted with a steady low dose of buprenorphine. In clinical trials, patients who used a Probuphine implant were significantly more likely to refrain from opioid use than patients who took buprenorphine orally.
Founder Behshad Sheldon
Year founded 2012
Location Princeton, New Jersey
Funding More than $187 million
Appriss Health markets NarxCare and Awarxe. NarxCare analyzes data about the medicines doctors give to patients, so health professionals can see health histories and prescription drug usage patterns and help identify those predisposed to addiction. Awarxe is a prescription-monitoring program that helps state governments identify, anticipate, and address the improper prescribing of controlled substances.
Founder Michael Davis
Year founded 2017
Revenue More than $125 million
Biobot has built a robot that rests under manholes to collect sewer-water samples. Those samples are then analyzed to measure the concentration of prescription and illicit opioids, to better identify communities experiencing addiction issues. A prototype is at work in Cambridge, where the company recently won first place at an MIT startup accelerator contest. Biobot recently launched a 12-week pilot program in a northeastern city it declined to identify. It's intended for cities of 50,000 people or more, and takes samples only from areas with at least 5,000 residents.
Founders Newsha Ghaeli and Mariana Matus
Year founded 2017
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
This health care startup created an app, OpiSafe, that's used by patients to fill out a survey that includes questions about family and personal health histories. It then gives assessments to doctors so they can determine patients' risk for opioid abuse. OpiSafe ensures that patients are screened for potential drug misuse before they receive opioids. It also recommends randomized urine screenings throughout those patients' treatment. It monitors patients who've been prescribed opioids and relays information to physicians--asking, for instance, how a patient is sleeping, because sleep disturbance can indicate respiratory distress, a sign that the patient is taking too large a dose.
Founders Robert Valuck, Bob Goodman, and Chris Ennis
Year founded 2013