Univ. Washington researchers develop device to detect opioid overdose and inject antidote

Abdominal fit device for opioid overdose detection and naloxone administration. It can also communicate with smartphones. (UW photo)

University of Washington researchers are developing a wearable to detect opioid overdoses and use a drug to reverse them.

The prototype device injects naloxone, a life-saving antidote, when it senses a person has stopped breathing. The researchers showcased the device in a peer-reviewed publication Monday at Scientific reports.

“We hope it can have a tangible impact on a major source of suffering in this country,” said the corresponding author and UW professor of computer science and engineering. Shyamnath Gollakota in a press release.

Based on original data released this month by the US Centers for Disease Control, more than 100,000 people in the US died from drug overdoses in the year ending April 2021, with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl accounting for 64%. Naloxone reversible If not, an opioid overdose is fatal, but it must be used quickly, and many people die alone.

UW professor of computer science and engineering Shyamnath Gollakota. (UW photo)

The new device is placed on the abdomen, where sensors detect changes in the body’s movement and breathing. The sensors implement technology used in smartphones and fitness trackers to measure movement. A processor in the device analyzes the data and determines when an individual stops breathing and the injection system administers naloxone.

Researchers have partnered with global injection device company Western Pharmaceutical Services, the company has developed a commercially available injectable component.

In the new study, researchers recruited 20 healthy volunteers to test the device by holding their breath for 15 seconds. The device successfully detected their lack of breathing and injected naloxone.

The researchers also tested the device, without naloxone, on 25 volunteers at a supervised injection facility in Vancouver, BC. This device can detect the non-lethal decrease in breathing that can occur after an opioid injection.

The device can also transmit data to a nearby smartphone. One fail-safe option might be to ask the wearer if they’re okay, on a smartphone, before deploying the injectors.

Additional studies are needed before researchers seek approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. They plan to test the naloxone-containing devices on opioid users, and they can also streamline its size. Ultimately, the researchers want to work with a drug delivery company or startup to commercialize it, Gollakota told GeekWire.

A few other research efforts has focused on developing ways to monitor opioid use or detect overdose, but many rely solely on smartphone alerts, whereas naloxone must be administered quickly. The new system closes the loop by automatically administering the antidote.

ONE recent research of 97 people with an opioid use disorder found that 76% would be willing to use a device that detects and responds to an injection of naloxone.

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