Part of a worldwide epidemic, more than 72,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2017. Opioid pain killers — both prescribed and illicit — pay a major role in this statistic. The FDA is actively involved in addressing this crisis. One part of the agency’s commitment to finding solutions to this problem was the launching of the Innovation Challenge last spring. The program is designed to encourage the development of medical devices that can help combat the opioid crisis.

The FDA received more than 250 applications, and the agency has now selected eight submissions for further support from FDA experts, guidance for clinical trials, and expedited review. The finalists cover a wide range of products and approaches. For example, CognifiSense has a pain therapy based on virtual reality (VR) technology instead of medication. Algomet Rx has a platform that provides objective measurement of patient pain and the pain reduction effects of drugs. And iPill Dispenser has developed a smart pill dispenser that relies on biometrics and a smartphone app to make sure that medications are taken only as prescribed.

The opioid crisis is taking an enormous financial and emotional toll on individuals, their families, and their communities. It is not likely that any single solution will eliminate the problems. Programs like the FDA’s Innovation Challenge can encourage a variety of promising approaches, which may combine to help us turn the corner on this crisis.