Purdue Pharma has been roundly criticized for its role in helping birth the U.S. opioid addiction and overdose crisis. The privately-held firm’s aggressive marketing tactics for the blockbuster OxyContin in the 1990s, including its 12-hour efficacy claim – as well as an American health system that collectively failed to realize how addictive these powerful pain-soothing drugs could be – are part of the reason that more than 165,000 Americans have died from prescription painkiller overdoses since 1999. On Thursday, a new report found a sharp spike in heroin use and addiction among white Americans, at least a portion of whom began by using prescription opioids.
But can the company help staunch the very crisis in which it’s such a prominent player – with a digital health assist?
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That’s what Purdue and partner Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania are trying to find out. The drug maker is sponsoring a study using the iPhone and Apple Watch in which patients suffering from chronic pain will log their symptoms. Purdue actually began utilizing Apple’s ResearchKit medical studies platform back in 2015, but this would be its first real-world deployment of the tech.
The hope is that doctors will be better able to monitor patients if they can understand the contours of their disease and only prescribe potentially addictive pain medications when it’s absolutely necessary.
Perhaps inevitably, the effort is already drawing some skepticism. “I’m sure [Purdue is] looking for some positive press out of this, [so they can] say, ‘We’re trying to make things better,'” Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School professor Robert Jamison told BuzzFeed News.
Purdue, on the other hand, insists that it has nothing but pure intentions with the study, and that it’s attempting to earnestly address the public health crisis. The firm has previously funded prescription drug monitoring programs to help doctors identify people who might be at high risk of addiction.
Other biopharma companies and health insurers have recently made forays into addressing the opioid epidemic, including by developing creative new methods to dispense pain-killing drugs that preclude the possibility of abuse and steering patients to alternative treatments.
This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.