Wearable Sensor Administers Narcan to Prevent Opioid Overdose Deaths

Wearable sensor opioid deaths
Image: Purdue University

In the United States, more than 130 people die after overdosing on opioids every day. Devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic include increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns experiencing withdrawal syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

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A drug called Narcan is used as an antidote for opioid overdose, but it’s difficult for a patient to administer it by themselves. Researchers from Purdue University have decided to tackle this problem with a wearable system that will release the antidote automatically, reports MobiHealthNews.

“A lot of time patients who overdoes are found alone and are incapacitated to inject the life-saving drug themselves,” Hyowon “Hugh” Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue, said in a university video. “We are trying to come up with a closed loop solution that can automatically deliver an antidote.”

An overdose occurs when opioids adhere to brain receptors that control breathing, causing individuals to hypoventilate and die.

The wearable device can detect the point at which the respiration rate of a person decreases to a certain level – changed from electrocardiography (EKG) signals – and subsequently releases the drug. This drug blocks the opioid from adhering to brain receptors.

Wearable sensor opioid deaths

Just like an insulin pump, the proof of concept device is worn as an armband that fastens to a magnetic field generator, linked to a portable battery worn at the hip.

“The idea is to be able to measure the rate of respiration using some sort of wearable sensor, and then to be able to use that as some form of threshold to trigger the release of the antidote that will be implanted under the skin so you will have an antidote with you just in case you have some sort of an accident,” Lee said. “Then when the system texts that you are having respiratory failure the drug will be released automatically to give you extra time to get medical attention.”

An EKG sensor is adhered on the chest. When it detects a respiration that’s too low, it triggers the magnetic field generator to warm up a drug capsule within the body and discharges the antidote in 10 seconds.

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The scientists believe the drug capsule can be pre-injected within the skin in an outpatient setting. The device therefore would be able to automatically release the drug to the patient in case of an overdose. That would give emergency services an extra hour to get the patient to the hospital, Lee said.