Monday, August 8, 2022

Wilmington startup asks for county support from hospital sale to tackle opioid crisis

OpiAID CEO David Reeser (left) and COO Tyler Sugden (right) are using data science to prevent relapses and overdoses. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy of Tyler Sugden)

WILMINGTON — A data science company developing an innovative solution to Wilmington’s worsening opioid problem is asking county leaders to support their initiative with money from the hospital sale.

In an initial case study, Wilmington-based opiAID is currently working with local addiction treatment center Coastal Horizons to research patients’ biometrics and provide data insights to the clinic so it is better able to identify their needs and risks of relapsing.

Related: County OKs $25 million budget for recovery center, groundbreaking in January

“We’re creating a technological footprint,” David Reeser, co-founder of the startup, said. “We’re taking data that they’re already collecting, and we’re giving it new meaning that no one’s seen before because they didn’t know what to do with it.”

In the future, the technology could be used in software for wearable devices that track biomarkers. For example, those who are in recovery may be able to get an app on an Apple Watch or other device that would detect drug cravings or overdoses, then alert contacts of the individual.

For now, opiAID is largely focused on creating algorithms and serving medically assisted treatment centers – its target clients. Eventually, it hopes to reach all populations in Wilmington recovering from opioid addictions – or as the company refers to them: their neighbors.

“This is made for our backyard,” Reeser said. “What we’d love to be able to do is partner with local communities so everyone has access to it that needs it.”

The birth of opiAID

OpiAID is just two years in the making. The startup was born from several technology entrepreneurs who looked to answer a specific question: How could artificial intelligence be employed to make a positive impact on the community?

They considered traffic flow and other issues that bothered the public. “And then we were like, ‘Well, what about this terrible opioid problem?’” Reeser said.

In 2018, 66 New Hanover residents unintentionally died from opioid overdoses and more than 110 people visited the emergency department for overdoses. Nearly 9 million pills were dispensed to residents in the county, according to the most recent data on the NC Opioid Action Plan Data Dashboard.

A piece of the pie

OpiAID is hoping to get a piece of the $1.9 billion New Hanover County will be receiving from the sale of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center system. The county has already established the New Hanover Community Endowment, Inc. nonprofit. Its 11-member board has been created to receive approximately $1.25 billion from the sale. The county is also planning to establish a $50 million mental and behavioral health fund once proceeds are received.

“We’re trying to work with those decision-makers to come up with a plan that would allow us to offer it to all the MAT [medication-assisted treatment] clinics, free of cost to them, in New Hanover,” Tyler Sugden, chief operating officer at opiAID, said.

The most expensive part of that objective would be integrating the opiAID technology with other medical facilities’ electronic record systems, Sugden explained.

OpiAID received its first federal funding – a $276,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health – to help fund research earlier this year.

“Getting an NIH grant is huge validation,” Reeser said. “They’re incredibly difficult to get.”

The company is now using those funds to collaborate with Coastal Horizons and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on the case study.

It’s currently in the patient recruitment phase of the project. In January, the company will start collecting and monitoring 30 different variables of biometrics from 40 Coastal Horizons patients who are recovering from opioid addiction.

The participants in the trial will be wearing a medical device called an “Everion” that continuously monitors vital signs. UNCW doctors will then analyze the wavelengths to help opiAID’s data scientists develop algorithms to provide data-driven insights to clinics.

“They can utilize these insights to make great clinical decisions, prevent relapse and identify individuals at risk and keep them in the treatment that’s going to help them get better,” Reeser said.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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