Researchers have developed a new wearable device that can be worn on the stomach like an insulin pump, and easily detect as well as reverse an opioid overdose.
The device, developed by a team at the University of Washington, can sense when a person stops breathing and moving, and inject naloxone, a lifesaving antidote that can restore respiration.
"The opioid epidemic has become worse during the pandemic and has continued to be a major public health crisis," said lead author Justin Chan, a UW doctoral student at the varsity's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering.
"We have created algorithms that run on a wearable injector to detect when the wearer stops breathing and automatically inject naloxone," Chan added in the paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
According to researchers, one of the unique aspects of opioid overdoses is that naloxone -- a benign drug -- is highly effective and can save lives if it can be administered in a timely fashion.
The UW team worked on the prototype with West Pharmaceutical Services of Exton in Pennsylvania, which developed a wearable subcutaneous injector that safely administers medications.
The researchers combined this injector system with sensors and developed an algorithm to detect the life-threatening pattern of respirations that occur when people experience opioid toxicity.
The device could also help people at different stages of opioid-use disorder to avoid accidental death.
To test the device, a clinical study was conducted with 25 participants in a supervised injection facility.
The sensors were able to accurately track respiration rates among people with opioid-use disorder. The device was also able to detect non-medical, opioid-induced apnoea, a breathing pattern that commonly precedes a potentially fatal overdose.
A clinical trial was also conducted in a hospital environment among 20 participants who manifested signs of apnoea by holding their breath. When the wearable system detected that the subject had not moved for at least 15 seconds, it activated and injected naloxone into the participant.
Following device actuation, blood draws taken from study participants confirmed that the system could deliver the antidote into the circulatory system, showing its potential to reverse opioid overdoses.
The team is looking to make these devices widely available, which would first require approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is currently working to accelerate efforts to address this critical public health problem and has recently published special guidance on emergency-use injectors.
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