Lower back pain
Lower back pain treatment requires re-look, say Monash University research project. (Monash University) Monash University

Scientists have been developing an injectable pain-relieving device that will work as an alternative to opioids and counter dependence on them as about 115 Americans lose their lives each day due to opioid overdose, it has been reported.

The Injectrode, a metal medical device created by Californian company Neuronoff in collaboration with the University of Michigan Ann Arbor assistant professor Dr Scott Lempka, who leads the Neuromodulation Lab, moulds to targetted areas inside the body, and can prove to be an alternative to opioid use by those experiencing chronic back pain.

The soon to be tested Injectrode will focus on stimulating the dorsal root ganglion -- a cluster of neurons in the spinal nerve that sends sensory information to the spinal cord -- to alleviate chronic pain.

The device, injectable through a small needle and does not require intensely invasive surgery, is a step in the direction of advancing neurostimulation therapies and technologies.

Neuronoff, which received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-Term initiative, has been focusing on neural engineering and biomedical computation and modelling to tackle opioid dependence. Researchers have been testing numerous neurostimulators that upon implantation deliver electrical impulses to block pain signals to patients' brains.

Clements, a 55-year-old Vernon resident is in severe pain, who had two operations at Royal Columbian Hospital on herniated discs, said neither of the two surgeries provided relief from her unrelenting pain, but spinal-cord stimulation that involved implanting electrodes on the spinal cord to control pain signals relieved her from injections and painkillers, including opiates.

The popularity of such pain-relieving devices surged because of the opioid epidemic and the recognition that some patients prescribed to such drugs became addicted.

According to Centre for Disease Control (CDC), about 20.4 per cent or 50 million Americans live with chronic pain, leading to nearly $560 billion each year in medical costs, lowering productivity, and increasing disability.

Chronic pain, which has become one of the leading causes for adults to seek medical care, has led to opioid dependence, anxiety, depression, restrictions in mobility and daily activities, as well as an overall reduction in quality of life.