Chesterfield company turning to technology to combat Rx overdose deaths

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) -- A Chesterfield company is hoping a new app they're developing will help in the fight against prescription drug abuse.

"I was given more pain medication than I think anybody could ever use when I was going through cancer treatment," David Rook said.

Rook was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. He says it was then he was prescribed daily pain medication.

"As time went by and the cancer was cured and the surgeries were over, I still had the opiate addiction and it led to a heroin addiction," Rook said.

Rook, now recovered, works at the McShin Foundation trying to help those with prescription and heroin drug addiction, but a Chesterfield company, Venebio, is hoping to help people before they become addicted to prescription drugs.

"It is clearly a public health epidemic," suggested Barbara Zedler, medical director at Venebio.

Zedler says their company has been working on an app that can predict whether a patient is at high risk for an overdose should they be given prescription drugs.

"Predicts with a very high degree of accuracy, 90 percent," she said.

The app takes a patient's information and matches that against known risk factors for opioid abuse. Zedler says more than 80 percent of prescription drug overdose deaths are unintentional and they're hoping educating doctors and patients can cut down on that number significantly.

"As a physician, this is of critical importance especially because these are preventable deaths by and large," Zedler said.

"I think a lot of times patients are caught off guard, they're not explained all the risks that are involved with taking opiates, how long it takes to get off of them," Rook added.

The company was recently given more than a million dollars in grants from the national institute on drug abuse to help develop the app.

"It's critically important for us to have that," said Duff Young, COO of Venebio. "We either wouldn't be able to do it on our own or it would take far longer for us to get this done."

"I think it's a good thing. I think it's a step in the right direction hopefully," Rook said.

The company also says the app can also help doctors determine which patients should also be given drugs like Narcan, which have proven to be lifesaving by reversing the effects of an overdose.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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