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Wearable Device Could Help Patients Experiencing an Overdose


The tech detects low respiration rates and could buy a patient an hour of time.


People are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than an automobile accident. But health technology could play a significant role in the fight against the opioid crisis. Take, for instance, the technology built by researchers at Purdue University. The research team developed a proof of concept wearable device that would automatically detect an overdose and deliver naloxone, which is a drug known to reverse deadly effects.

Although the device doesn’t currently work automatically, researchers demonstrated through in vitro and in vivo experiments that the way it is set up can successfully detect low respiration rates from electrocardiography (ECG) signals and delivers naloxone.

“The antidote is always going to be with you,” said Hyowon Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue University. “The device wouldn’t require you to recognize that you’re having an overdose or to inject yourself with naloxone, keeping you stable long enough for emergency services to arrive.”

If the device works properly, it can buy about an hour of time for a patient during an overdose.

Lee and his research team built a wearable device that detects when a person’s respiration rate decreases to a certain level. This data is converted from ECG signals. Once detected, the wearable releases naloxone, which will block the opioid from binding to brain receptors.

The wearable device would be similar to an insulin pump — an armband that straps onto a magnetic field generator. The armband connects to a portable battery worn at the hip. An ECG sensor placed on the skin measures respiration rate. If the sensor detects a dangerously low respiration rate, it activates the magnetic field generator. The generator then heats up a drug capsule in the body and releases naloxone in 10 seconds, the researchers claim.

The patient experiencing an overdose will then have extra time to get medical attention

“A lot of times, these patients who overdose are found alone or too incapacitated to be able to inject this life saving drug themselves,” Lee said in a video. “We’re trying to come up with a closed-loop solution that can automatically deliver an antidote.”

Lee’s goal is to make the device unobtrusive, so it doesn’t feel like the patient is wearing something large and bulky all the time.

The research team hopes to build a communications system into the device to automatically alert emergency services if and when a patient experiences an overdose.

In addition to that, the technology has the potential to deliver other drugs besides naloxone.

“People with allergies need epinephrine right away,” Lee said. “This setup might remove the need for an epi pen.”

Lee and his research team’s work is published in the Journal of Controlled Release.

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