MSU scientists test new device that could help end the opioid epidemic

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3/KSPR) - Scientists and researchers at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center with Missouri State University are testing out a device called gammacore.

The gammacore device is the first non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator that can be applied at the neck to stop the vagas nerve from sending pain signals to the brain. The company behind the hand-held device is electrocore. Before this invention, patients were not able to get this type of pain treatment unless they underwent an invasive, and costly, procedure. Dr. Paul Durham, the Director of Cell Biology and the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences at Missouri State University, said he and his colleagues are helping test the device and added that they haven't seen any negative side effects.

The gammacore has already been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for patients suffering from migraines. "We think it's going to work in other oral-facial pain conditions," said Durham.

Dr. Durham added that the research is expanding because of the positive results they've seen thus far. He said the device could be a new alternative to opioids since the tiny machine already works like a pain killer, but without the addiction factor. "The opioid epidemic is totally out of control, so we have to find alternative strategies for giving people other options basically to mitigate their pain," said Durham. He said in their research they found the gammacore device works just as well as opioids do. "Instead of getting multiple dosages of an opiate, we can send them home with this device and then they can manage their pain in a non-pharmaceutical way and a non-addictive way."

Sara Woodman, a Junior Researcher on the project, said one of the biggest challenges will be getting health insurance companies to consistently cover the cost of the device. She expressed she felt it would be worth it for them. “It looks really bad if the insurance companies are not covering something that’s proven safe and effective and instead they’re only covering opioids, which are effective in pain management, but are definitely risky,” said Woodman.

Those who suffer from migraines and who are interested in the gammacore should ask their doctor to see if their insurance covers the device.