The Bridge device comes in a kit with several items that aid the application process, such as tweezers and a pen light. Staff photo by Josh Hicks
The Bridge device comes in a kit with several items that aid the application process, such as tweezers and a pen light. Staff photo by Josh Hicks
JEFFERSONVILLE — What if there was a device that could wipe out the symptoms of opioid withdrawal?

Shakes would be quelled. Aches would be relieved. Cold chills would be extinguished.

Addicts might be more likely to sober up — perhaps keeping them from their vices permanently.

What if that device was manufactured in Southern Indiana?

Well it is. But it just has an FDA classification (BWK) to treat acute and chronic pain — not specifically withdrawal pain. 

The Bridge is a needled electro-acupuncture device that wraps around a person’s ear and uses electricity to stop the part of the brain responsible for the pain of opioid withdrawals — the amygdala — from firing. 

It’s manufactured by Key Electronics in Jeffersonville and owned by Innovative Health Solutions in Versailles. 

IHS is in the process of reclassifying the Bridge through the FDA. They hope to eventually be able to market the device as a solution to opioid withdrawals, said Brian Carrico, the VP of sales for the company. 

As for right now, research and testimony from customers suggest that the Bridge has been effective at keeping patients from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 

Katrina Lock is a nurse practitioner who works in the Florence, Kentucky area. She originally started using the Bridge on her clients for trials. Now, she offers it to them independently — using it to wean patients off of opioids so that they can receive a naltrexone injection. 

Naltrexone is a medication that blocks the good feelings people get from using opioids. Patients must be off of opioids, including Suboxone and methadone, for a certain amount of time before they can receive naltrexone. 

She estimates that she's used around 100 of the devices on her patients. 

"I've never seen it not work," she said. 

They come to her office around 24 to 48 hours after taking an opioid, experiencing the usual symptoms of withdrawal: tremors, nausea, aches and diarrhea. (It's like the flu times ten, Lock said). 

She sets them up with the Bridge, and within 10 to 15 minutes, their symptoms have subsided. They wear the device for several days until they're ready for the naltrexone shot. 

Their withdrawal symptoms are almost entirely deadened during their time wearing the Bridge, Lock said. They may experience discomfort, particularly on the third day, but even that will be milder than usual. 

A study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in March found that wearing the Bridge reduced withdrawal symptoms by 84.6 percent within 30 minutes of wearing it. 

Those numbers make Carrico "confident" that the FDA will approve the reclassification of the device. The new classification would also allow the device to be covered by many insurance plans. 

Currently, the Bridge costs $500, although most doctors charge around $700 for it, Carrico said. 

Around 40,000 devices have been created by Key Electronics since 2014. The company has the capability to create 700,000 in one year on one shift, said David Meece, the CFO at Key Electronics. 

The Bridge isn't a guarantee that a user will be off ofd drugs forever. 

The AJDAA study found that 88 percent of the 73 people who were given the device were able to transition to "medication assisted therapy" after using it. 

Even after a patient enters recovery from an addiction, they could relapse. The rate of those who do is 40 to 60 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

But it could make a difference, and the device is just one of the products Key Electronics makes that Meece believes help people. The company is in the beginning stages of working on a special wheelchair that would allow users to be more active. 

"We do like that kind of product that will help people live more fulfilled lives," he said.

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