In a recent brief, the American Medical Association expressed concern over “an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality” due to the COVID-19 crisis. Now, Masimo has announced its latest product, Bridge, a wearable device that could improve the chances for people in recovery from opioid addiction.

Detox from heroin or prescription opioids often causes severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms prevent many people from succeeding in their recovery. Most opioid recovery programs begin with a detox period, during which doctors prescribe drugs like suboxone and naltrexone to mitigate symptoms. Once physical dependency on heroin or prescription opioids has ended, the patient transfers into a long-term rehab program that addresses the psychiatric, emotional, and psychological aspects of addiction.

Unfortunately, medication-assisted therapy (MAT) isn’t always successful, which can lead to relapse. With Bridge, Masimo intends to provide relief from these symptoms without prescription medication. The device may also shorten the time needed for MAT.

Bridge might easily be mistaken for a hearing aid; its adhesive back attaches the small device behind the ear. It transmits electric pulses via wire to tiny electrodes positioned around the ear. These deliver neurostimulation through the skin to stimulate branches of specific cranial nerves, resulting in a decrease in withdrawal symptoms.

Clinical tests found that Bridge reduced symptoms — increased heart rate, sweating, joint/bone pain, tremors, aggravation — within 30 minutes of application. The study found that Bridge decreased symptoms by 97% after five days of use. The device has received an FDA De Novo classification as the first evidence-based, drug-free device designed to mitigate opioid withdrawal.

Concerns about the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis involve psychological and pathological factors. Opioids are immunosuppressive and they slow respiratory function, increasing the risk for severe complications from COVID-19. And social isolation and anxiety about the effects of the pandemic are drivers in increased opioid usage.

The evidence so far indicates that Bridge makes it easier for some patients to successfully complete the detox phase of opioid recovery. If so, Bridge could save lives by reducing the risk of overdose and COVID-19-related death in patients who end their dependency on dangerous opioids.