When people detox from opioids they describe it as having a terrible flu — times ten. For many, the fear of withdrawals is what prevents them from getting treatment in the first place. But a new device to help with detoxing is having surprising success.
Randy Burton is 27. He’s struggled with substance-use for over a decade. The culmination of his drug use was with heroin and cocaine.
A few months back he was at a detox center in Salt Lake City trying to get clean.
"I was in so much pain and having bad enough withdrawals that I was ready to do anything. I was willing to do anything because I was ready to leave and go use again," Burton said.
Through a friend who works at Odyssey House in Salt Lake, Burton was allowed to be the first person in Utah to try a new device called the Bridge. It looks like small plastic hearing aid that goes behind a patient’s ear. Four wires come out that are pinned to nerve endings on their ear. When it’s turned on, it sends electric impulses to specific parts of the patient's brain, interrupting withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, restlessness and upset stomach.
Danele Cebrowski is a physician assistant at Odyssey House. She was skeptical when she first put the device on Burton. When he came in, she says, he was incredibly sick.
"In 30 minutes he was a completely new person. He had an appetite again. He wasn’t sweating anymore," Cebrowoski said.
Since then she has put the Bridge on nine other patients. She says they’ve all been successful. Patients like Burton wear the Bridge for around five days, getting continuous low-level shocks. After that, they can transition into treatment for their addiction.
The Bridge was approved by the Food and Drug Administration late last year. Because it’s so new it isn’t covered by private insurance or Medicaid. But at a cost of around $600, officials at Odyssey House say it costs significantly less than detoxing at an inpatient facility for a week.