Wearable Device Could Help Detect and Reverse Opioid Overdose


The device is to be worn on the stomach and senses when an individual stops breathing and moving, followed by an injection of naloxone that can restore respiration.

Investigators at the University of Washington (UW) have developed a wearable device to detect and reverse an opioid overdose, according to a press release.

The device is to be worn on the stomach and senses when an individual stops breathing and moving. It then injects naloxone that can restore respiration.

"We have created algorithms that run on a wearable injector to detect when the wearer stops breathing and automatically inject naloxone,” said Justin Chan, a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, in a statement.

The pilot device includes a pair of accelerometers that measure respiration and an onboard processor that detects the halt of motion associated with breathing. Further, it is designed to transmit data about breathing rates and apneic motion to a nearby smartphone via Bluetooth.

A clinical study was conducted with 25 individuals who volunteered at a supervised injection facility in Vancouver. The sensors were able to accurately detect respiration rates among these individuals, and the device was able to detect non-medical, opioid-induced apnea, according to the study authors.

The study measured breathing patterns only to develop the respiratory algorithm and did not inject naloxone, which was administered only in the second study.

In the second study, a clinical trial was conducted in a hospital environment and included 20 volunteers who did not take opioids. The individuals underwent simulated overdose events by breathing normally, then performing a breath hold for 15 seconds to mimic an apneic event.

The system detected that the subject had not moved for at least 15 seconds, and it activated the injection of naloxone. Following the device activation, investigators drew blood from the individual to confirm that the system could deliver the medication into the circulatory system, showing its potential to reverse opioid overdoses, according to the study authors.

The investigators have teamed up with West Pharmaceutical Services in Exton, Pennsylvania, which developed a subcutaneous injector that safely administers medication.

"We have enjoyed collaborating with the UW research team at bringing together this expertise in cutting-edge biosensing and wearable drug-delivery technologies," said Alex Lyness, senior manager of research and technology at West Pharmaceuticals, in the statement. "We are pleased to have been able to contribute to this project and prototype system that is intent on solving such a significant unmet need."

The wearable device has received regulatory approval in the United States, and it is intended to help individuals at different stages of opioid-use disorder to avoid accidental deaths, according to the researchers.

The research team said further studies are needed to assess the comfort and discreteness of the device over longer periods of time, specifically in unsupervised settings. An additional study is also needed to evaluate naloxone injection for individuals who use opioids for nonmedical purposes.

The results were published in Scientific Reports.


Wearable device can detect and reverse opioid overdose. EurekAlert. November 22, 2021. Accessed November 21, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/935539

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