The Bridge: A device designed to help opioid addicts get clean
VANDALIA, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) -- Lawmakers from the White House to the state house to county council chambers have remarked on the enduring opioid epidemic gripping the nation.
The answer to ending the crisis is unclear, although a relatively new device claims to ease addicts' suffering.
The device is called the Bridge. It's a small, compact device with several electrodes that send pulses to the mid-brain. The portion of the brain that controls addiction. The bridge stops the effects of withdrawal in some cases within minutes. Many addicts recognize the symptoms of withdrawal.
"Ugh, hot and cold, restless legs. Oh, my God, it's so uncomfortable," said Thomas Searles.
"Why are you here?" asked the reporter.
"Um, I'm addicted to heroin," said Searles.
Thomas and his wife Melissa are at the North Dayton Addiction and Recovery Center in Vandalia.
"When you're in withdrawal you feel, well, I'm sure you can see how I feel," said Thomas, "That's why no one can get off of it. The withdraws are so bad that you will do anything to feel better."
Thomas' mom is here for a sobering reason.
"I'm here to save my son and his wife from being buried and dead. I can't go through that again," said Carolyn Searles, Thomas' mom.
Carolyn is reminded of the pain of losing a child. She's lost two already.
"Every day I was begging him please don't make me bury you. You gotta stop. You gotta stop," said Carolyn.
The couple is here for this.
"The bridge through neuro-stimulatory pathways between the ear and the mid-brain kind of [blunts] the effects of withdrawal and then inhibit the cravings of addiction," said Dr. Paul Kolodzik, Medical Director, North Dayton Addiction and Recovery.
The North Dayton Addiction and Recovery Center one of three locations in the Miami Valley using the bridge.
"Get people through withdrawal to the point that they can either manage the addiction on their own or with help of additional medication such as nakltexone or vivitrol," said Dr. Kolodzik.
Dustin, who didn't want to show his face, is also addicted to heroin.
"I've overdosed four times myself," said Dustin, "Twice with Narcan, one time I had a respirator and a catheter in me and I was basically out and last time I just basically woke up on my own."
He used the Bridge to get through the withdrawal.
"I felt it instantly. The way I could describe as, it felt like acupuncture in a way," said Dustin.
An instant relief for someone like Thomas and Melissa.
"And so your use has been consistent for how long then?" asked Dr. Kolodzik.
"Yes, every day for a year and a half," said Melissa Searles, "Anxiousness, hot cold, restless leg syndrome, I can't sit still."
The process of putting on the device...
"The first electrode is placed on the earlobe. This is the ground wire," said Dr. Kolodzik.
"You may feel a little pressure here, a little pin prick," said Dr. Kolodzik.
And once all four electrodes are in place.
"I feel a pulsing," said Melissa.
"That's a good thing," replied Dr. Kolodzik.
The process the same for Thomas.
"What do you feel?" asked the reporter.
"Um an electric pulse. I don't know if you've ever touched an electric fence before. Yeah. That," said Thomas.
As Thomas was getting his device put on his wife sitting patiently with hers on for just 10 minutes.
"A little bit better than before, but nothing compared to where I need to be," said Melissa.
After a total of 30 minutes...
"I'm actually feeling much better. Most of the irritability went away. Anxiousness most of it gone. Not hot cold anymore. I feel like I can handle it for the most part now," said Melissa.
"How soon after when the doctor placed it in your ear did you feel better?" asked the reporter.
"Within minutes," said Melissa.
For Thomas it's a similar feeling.
"How are you feeling?" asked the reporter.
"I feel great! Amazing. I can't even put it into words," said Thomas.
The doctor wanted to stress that this device isn't for everyone and won't work for everyone either. The couple that we featured didn't return for their follow up appointment and didn't get the vivitrol shot that's recommended. We plan to follow up within the next few weeks. As for Dustin, he followed all the procedures and remains clean and has been now for more than a month.
The Bridge is now being used in 25 states across the country. There are six places in Ohio using it three here in the Miami Valley.
It is cleared by the FDA. And the FDA is expected to reclassify the device in the next 30 days, so it will be covered by insurance companies.