January 27, 2022 – It’s no secret that a certain public health epidemic only got worse during COVID-19 pandemic: drug overdose deaths. From May 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses, according to the CDC. About 64% of these deaths were from opioids, mainly fentanyl.
To reduce those deaths, researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new wearable device that can tell when a person has overdosed on opioids.
It’s possible vice versa opioid overdose with the drug naloxone, but it must be given as soon as someone shows signs of overdose or stops breathing. If a person has an overdose on their own or if no one nearby has a dose of naloxone or is trained to use it, the likelihood of that person dying is much higher. This has prompted researchers to develop a system of auto-injectors that people with opioid use disorder can carry around their stomachs. The new device works similarly to insulin pump.
It has sensors to detect breathing patterns and is programmed to recognize signs of slowed or stopped breathing and movement. If the sensors detect life-threatening respiratory symptoms that mean an overdose, it triggers an injection of naloxone. The researchers tested the device on volunteers in two environments and published their findings in a journal Scientific reports in November.
One of the test sites was a supervised injection clinic in Vancouver, Canada, where people with addictions can use IV medications in the presence of a trained medical professional. Twenty-five volunteers wore the device to ensure it accurately measured their breathing patterns while using opioids, but the devices were not programmed to deliver naloxone.
Second place was a hospital where 20 volunteers who were not taking opioids wore devices and held their breath for 15 seconds to mimic the symptom of cessation of breathing. During this test, the devices injected a dose of naloxone when they felt that the person had not moved for at least 15 seconds.
Naloxone binds to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids if consumed. After the injections, blood was drawn from the participants to make sure that a small dose of the medicine entered their bloodstream.
A new study shows that the device works properly and delivers the right dose to a person’s vascular system. However, more studies are needed before researchers can apply for FDA approval. Also, with more tests on the safety and effectiveness of the device, researchers need to know how comfortable the devices are to wear and whether they are hidden enough from view to make opioid addicts willing to wear them.