Bridge Device: What is It and How Does it Work?

bridge device used to ease withdrawal

The Bridge Device is a small neuo-stimulator worn behind the ear that helps ease withdrawal symptoms.

If you ask an opiate addict why they continue using pain pills or heroin after it has destroyed their lives, chances are they will blame withdrawal. Opiate withdrawal typically occurs within a few hours after the last use and will continue to intensify as time goes on.

Patient’s describe it as, “the worst flu you’ve ever felt, times 100.”  Associated with the flu symptoms are constant hot and cold sweats, restless legs, muscle and bone pain, severe nausea and vomiting and diarrhea, along with many other unpleasant symptoms. They say, “It’s the closest to death you’ll feel without dying,” and something they wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy.

How Does It Work?

At North Dayton Addiction and Recovery Services (NDARS), our medical staff is constantly looking to apply the most effective techniques for managing addiction. Through this research, we learned of a new device that is effective in treating the symptoms of withdrawal.  “The Bridge Device” is a neuro-stimulator placed near one’s ear that assists with the pain and discomfort of opiate withdrawal.

A neuro-stimulator delivers mild electrical impulses.  It is similar to a TENS unit.  The Bridge Device is an auricular peripheral nerve field stimulator and has been cleared for use by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). In addition to neuro-stimulation, it also utilizes principals of acupuncture in providing mild electrical impulses from the nerves around the ear to the deep part of the brain.  That area is called the midbrain and is primarily responsible for addictive behavior.

The Bridge Device connects topically to the patient’s ear via 4 tiny 2mm “probes” that block pain signals from getting through to the brain. While the device is not painful, the patient may experience a slight sense of vibration in the area of the ear.  This vibration is usually not noticed by the patient after several hours of use. The device is left in place  for 5 days and then removed.  

How is the Bridge Device Used?

We advise a patient be in 24-36 hours of withdrawal before using the Bridge Device.  Once it is placed, the patient finds relief within minutes and experiences limited signs of withdrawal within an hour. A second device may need to be used after the first five days if a patient is detoxing off of higher doses of Suboxone (buprenorphine) or methadone.  The Bridge Device only has a five-day lifespan.

Before placing the device, we do what’s called a “COWS” (Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale) reading. This is an assessment of the different withdrawal symptoms and their severity that are observed by the physician and reported by the patient. A COWS reading is done every 10 minutes for 30 minutes after the Bridge Device is placed. Typically, the initial COWS score is between 25 to 36, which is considered severe.  After 30 minutes of use, the COWS reading is from 3 to 7, which is mild.

It’s important to note that the Bridge Device does not take away cravings, but only manages withdrawal symptoms.  However, patients have reported to us that they have very limited cravings while using the Bridge due to not being in withdrawal and able to focus better on other things.

Comfort Medication and Counseling

The most important thing to remember is that the Bridge Device is NOT a cure all, and should not be considered as one. It is tool, used with “comfort” medication and counseling to assist patients through withdrawal. Most often, after full withdrawal is achieved, therapy is continued with additional medications to optimize the likelihood of permanent opiate sobriety.

“Comfort” medications are drugs that can assist in minimizing the limited symptoms of withdrawal that may persist after treatment with the Bridge Device. We advise the patient to have no communication with other users, and stay away from places where substances are available.  The patient is also encouraged to participate daily in counseling and recovery based activities.

One key medication that we provide at NDARS is Vivatrol, also known as naltrexone. Vivitrol treatment is necessary long term to help assure the success of long term recovery.


*Fox 45 Dayton recently aired a news story about the Bridge from our office.  Watch it here: http://fox45now.com/news/local/the-bridge-a-device-designed-to-help-addicts-get-clean

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