Wilmington company receives $2.8M grant, studying AI treatment options for those suffering from opioid use disorder

A local company is utilizing AI to help those with opioid addiction.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 9:02 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For years, organizations and leaders in local communities have battled the effects that opioid abuse can have on users.

The problem is one that has affected many areas of the country and the state of North Carolina as a whole, with more than 28,000 N.C. residents losing their lives to to drug overdoses between 2000 and 2020.

OpiAID, a Wilmington-based company, has partnered with UNCW and Coastal Horizons to improve treatment for people with opioid use disorder and make a real impact on the problem.

“How can we do something good with AI that will put people at ease and see the benefits of this technology? Opioids have just been devastating. We have 13.6% of our working population here in Wilmington, misuse or abuse, opioids. So, it was a very clear decision for us that we want to use AI for the opioid epidemic,” said Tyler Sugden, chief operating officer for OpiAID.

They began research in 2020 and have now been awarded a $2.8 million “Fast Track” grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

This grant will further support OpiAID’s mission to provide evidence-based solutions for those in need. The company said they would love to grow nationally and help as many people as possible, but their focus is helping people here at home first.

“OpiAID was created here in Wilmington, and for Wilmington, our true north question is, before we do anything, ‘Does this help our neighbor achieve recovery and freedom?’ Then we take a step back and say, ‘And how can we apply that here in our community first,’” said Sugden.

The technology being used to do so can be found within something that some people wear every single day.

Of the $2.8 million, $300,000 is being used to better understand the physical and behavioral characteristics of people who suffer from opioid use disorder. This data is tracked on a wearable device, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit.

The original 2020 research recently wrapped up and OpiAID is now working on phase two, which is taking that research and creating an app-like program to then install into wearable devices.

Being able to provide privacy to those suffering from opioid use disorder was the original goal of OpiAID, and they believe utilizing wearable devices could be a gamechanger.

“The number one reason that people don’t go into treatment is because of the stigma, they don’t want to stand in line at a methadone clinic. That has a lot of negative connotations in the general public, despite the fact that this person is going there with intent to obtain recovery, freedom,” said Sugden.

Not only would your smart device alert you if you are at risk of relapsing, but the ultimate goal is to allow doctors access to your device history so that they can properly treat you.

OpiAID is seeking FDA approval for their technology, which could take a few years.