Some Ky. counties using settlement money to make new opioid-withdrawal treatment available to a small number of residents

Mike Cox, chief operating officer of Isaiah House, said the treatment involves taping tiny electrodes behind the participant’s mastoid process, behind the ear, to deliver a carefully programmed series of tiny electrical pulses that stimulate the production of the body’s natural neurotransmitters, such as endorphins.

“We know that those neurotransmitters become depleted and replaced by the drug” chosen by those with opioid-use disorder, Cox said. “When a person tries to stop taking the drug, then he or she begins to experience intense cravings and the body goes into withdrawal. It is that terrible experience of intense cravings, that horrible sickness that keeps people from stopping using the substance that keeps them using. Not for the euphoria of it, but just to survive.”

He said they will have 30 reusable units on hand for the treatment, which lasts five to seven days.

While the device will be helpful, Cox said, it is not the single solution.

“We see it as a tool to help them on the front end of treatment,” he said. “This device is a new tool in the toolbox to really help people overcome the fear and experience of being sick from withdrawal and the intense cravings, which are . . . really the reasons why many people are afraid to get treatment.”

According to state data, in 2023, nearly 80% of Kentucky’s overdose deaths involved opioids.

Medications are available to treat opioid-use disorder, but Cox noted that many people use more than one substance. And while the clinical trial of the NET Device focused on opiates, he said it also helps with the withdrawal symptoms of other drugs, from nicotine to methamphetamine.

“We know the device to be effective for all drugs,” Cox said. “They have specific programming for each type of drug, which makes this device unique. . . . The additional upside to this device over medications is that it addresses the concerns of abuse and diversion.”

Later, he said, “We have witnessed, really the positive impact of this device on a lot of people without any negative side effects. And, FDA approval is further evidence of the efficacy of this device in reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.”

Cox said Isaiah House will only be paid a “small amount” for the additional work required by his staff to offer the therapy.

Who qualifies for it?

Cox said participants will be considered for the NET Device on a case-by-case basis. “We just want to help people,” he said.

Because insurance does not pay for the treatment, Lott said, “At this time, we’re only focusing on treating people from counties who have paid for it or anyone can choose to pay and be treated.”

Bullitt County’s contract says the participant must be diagnosed with opioid-use disorder, be admitted on a separately paid basis into a participating service program with a residential drug-addiction treatment facility, be a resident of the contracted county, and meet the clinical eligibility for the treatment, including a desire to participate in the program.

Lott added that a participant must also be 18, and cannot be pregnant or have a pacemaker.

Cox said Isaiah House is starting the program in one of its men’s facilities in Washington County and one of its women’s facilities in Mercer County. Eventually, he said the treatment would be offered at all of their residential facilities.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Donate to Kentucky Health News here.