Wilmington start-up gets $276K research grant for tool to help recovering opioid users

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A Wilmington-based start up company has joined the fight against opioid addiction, and celebrated one of its first milestones Thursday.

The data science company opiAID received its first federal grant for $276K, which will help fund research for new technology to alert recovering opioid users when they’re at risk of relapsing.

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“There’s always been a stigma about this, and we are very hopeful,” opiAID co-Founder Hoop Morgan said. “One of our missions is to remove that stigma, and make it easy for people to feel like they can step forward and get help.”

The company celebrated the grant Thursday evening with members of the community, including Mayor bill Saffo and District Attorney Ben David.

opiAID COO Tyler Sugden says the grant will go towards phase one of their project to help fund research done in partnership with Coastal Horizons and UNCW. He says they’ll study the bio metrics of recovering opioid users.

Sugden says the goal is to create technology to use on a device to help people through the “white space” of recovery.

“The white space is the time when they’re alone,” Sugden said. “That they’re not in the clinics. They’re around the people, or the places or things that may cause them to use, and while they’re in this time, this is their highest likelihood to relapse.”

Sugden says the device could look something like a watch or even a ring, and can use those bio metrics to identify when someone is entering a craving cycle. Not only will the device alert the person, but it will send an alert to their doctor and even loved ones.

“So that clinician can now do a telehealth visit with this person, and intervene before they relapse,” Sugden said. “And at the same time, it’ll send a picture to their device of the thing that reminds them why they want to be sober.”

The company says this research grant is just the first step in this long term project, but the it already has the backing of city and New Hanover County leaders.

“It’s truly changing the trajectory of people’s lives, and I’m a huge fan of anything that’s going to help us put this in a treatment context and end the stigma,” District Attorney Ben David said.

“If we can put this program, this pilot program that we’re doing here today, this could be nationwide,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said. “​It could pay tremendous dividends all over the country. So this is a big step for us.”

The leaders of opiAID says they hope to do the bio metric research over the next six months, and then apply for another grant to actually build the product.

Eventually, Sugden says they hope to study other bio metrics to add new features to the device to monitor overdoses, co-use and dose titration.