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Jeff Rowe


OxyContin is widely considered the epicenter of, or at least the drug that started, the country’s ongoing opioid crisis.

Now the drug’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, is partnering with Geisinger Health System to study a new approach to drug treatment that allows patients with chronic pain to transmit information to their physician through an iPhone or Apple Watch.

According to Buzzfeed News, Purdue will use Apple’s ResearchKit to test a digital approach to pain management on 200 patients at Geisinger. Data is recorded through an app and fed into a patient’s EHR, allowing physicians to modify pain medication prescriptions or identify alternative pain management techniques based on a stream of real-time information.

Researchers at Purdue and Geisinger hope that wearables and smartphones will help doctors better understand patients’ real-time experiences, prescribe them painkillers only as needed, and cut health care costs. While some public health experts say the study potentially has merit, they acknowledge that Purdue’s involvement can, at the very least, look awkward.

“I’m just very suspicious that they’re interested in developing a tool that will help people get off of their medicines,” Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, told Buzzfeed News. “When I hear about this, I wonder if it’s all an effort by Purdue to get good [public relations].”

Purdue executives, however, say their new ResearchKit study is one of several efforts the company has made to stem opioid abuse. They co-sponsored a prescription-monitoring program in Virginia, so prescribers can see and make decisions based on patients’ medication history, granted $1 million to the National Association Boards of Pharmacy to promote prescription-monitoring nationwide, and they’re reportedly working on non-opioid pain treatments and have distributed the CDC’s new opioid-prescribing guidelines to medical professionals.