New wearable device can help detect and reverse opioid overdoses

Researchers have developed a new portable device that can be worn on the stomach like an insulin pump and that can easily detect and reverse an opioid overdose.

Developed by a team at the University of Washington, the device can detect when a person stops breathing and moving and inject naloxone, a life-saving antidote that can restore breathing.

“The opioid epidemic has worsened during the pandemic and remains a major public health crisis,” said lead author Justin Chan, a UW graduate student at the university’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering.

“We developed algorithms running on a portable injector to detect when the wearer stops breathing and automatically inject naloxone,” added Chan in the article published in Scientific Reports.

According to researchers, one of the unique aspects of opioid overdoses is that naloxone – a benign drug – is highly effective and can save lives if given in a timely manner.

The UW team worked on the prototype with West Pharmaceutical Services of Exton, Pennsylvania, who developed a portable subcutaneous injector that safely delivers drugs.

The researchers combined this injector system with sensors and developed an algorithm to detect the life-threatening breathing pattern that occurs when people experience opioid toxicity.

The device could also help people with different stages of opioid use disorder avoid accidental death.

To test the device, a clinical study was carried out with 25 participants in a supervised injection facility.

The sensors were able to accurately track the respiratory rate in people with opioid use disorder. The device was also able to detect non-medical, opioid-induced apneas, a breathing pattern that often precedes a potentially fatal overdose.

A clinical study was also conducted in a hospital setting with 20 participants who showed signs of apnea from holding their breath. When the wearable system detected that the person had not moved for at least 15 seconds, it activated and injected the participant with naloxone.

Upon activation of the device, blood draws from study participants confirmed that the system could deliver the antidote to the circulatory system, demonstrating its potential to reverse an opioid overdose.

The team would like to make these devices generally available, which would first require approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is currently working to accelerate efforts to address this critical public health problem and has recently released specific guidance on emergency injectors.


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