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CNBC 01/05/2017

Tech devices to treat chronic pain could curb opioid use

In 2014 radio producer Coy Dean was at a promotional event in Greenville, North Carolina, when he had a stroke. The 48-year-old couldn’t move the left side of his body, and even as he started to recover, his joints were painful, especially his shoulder.

“I play ball, so I was used to pain, but this was a whole other type of pain,” Dean said. He couldn’t lift his left arm, and he was sleeping poorly because the pain would wake him every time he moved. His doctor prescribed painkillers, to which Dean says he became addicted, popping pills every 45 minutes. He once even broke the top of the bottle to get to the pills faster, he said.

Then Dean heard about a clinical trial for a device called the SPRINT Peripheral Nerve Stimulation (PNS) System, intended to reduce his shoulder pain without drugs. It took his new doctor only a few minutes to slip the thin wire into his arm and another few seconds to calibrate the small patch that controls it. When the device was on, it felt like a massage to his muscles, he said. After a few months Dean’s shoulder pain evaporated. He said he still has morning stiffness in his shoulder and he still takes aspirin for the pain from his other joints, but he can now drink a cup of coffee with his left hand with ease.

The SPRINT PNS device is one of a growing class of FDA-approved devices that relieve chronic pain. They have fewer side effects than drugs and, if used in conjunction with other treatments, such as over-the-counter pain treatments and physical therapy, can eliminate patients’ pain altogether. If their popularity continues among doctors and patients, the devices may soon become the standard of care to treat chronic pain.

An estimated 100 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain — pain that lasts more than three months and is caused by diseases such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, a remnant of an injury from an accident or surgery or from an unknown source.

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