Wearable device injects antidote when it detects opioid overdoses
Although the drug naloxone can be a lifesaver in cases of opioid overdose, it has to be administered quickly. That's where a new wearable device comes in, as it's designed to first detect the effects of an overdose, and then deliver an injection of naloxone.
Currently in functioning prototype form, the injector is being developed by scientists at the University of Washington, led by doctoral student Justin Chan. It's adhered to the skin over the user's stomach, where it utilizes accelerometers and a microprocessor to continuously monitor their body movement and their rate of respiration.
If it detects a sustained lack of movement – combined with a telltale breathing pattern which is known to precede opioid-overdose-related respiratory failure – it automatically uses a retractable needle to deliver a subcutaneous injection of naloxone from a built-in reservoir. That medication should then restore normal respiration.
Additionally, data on the user's respiratory patterns can be transmitted via Bluetooth to a nearby smartphone, to alert either the patient or a remotely located caregiver.
In order to initially "train" the overdose-detection algorithm utilized by the technology, 25 test subjects afflicted with opioid-use disorder volunteered to wear the device during visits to a supervised injection facility in Vancouver, Canada. When 20 healthy test subjects subsequently simulated opioid-induced respiratory failure by holding their breath (in a hospital setting), the device responded by giving them an injection of naloxone.
The scientists are now working on making the injector smaller and more discreet, with an eye towards commercializing the technology.
"This wearable auto-injector may have the potential to reduce fatalities due to opioid overdoses," says Prof. Shyam Gollakota, co-author of a paper on the research. "We are hopeful it can have a tangible impact on a big source of suffering in this country."
It should be noted that a team at Purdue University is developing an arm-worn opioid-overdose-detecting system which delivers naloxone, although it incorporates a drug capsule that has to be surgically implanted under the skin.