In 2018, more than 115 people died from opioid overdose each day in the United States. This horrid statistic demonstrates the devastating public health crisis that has gripped much of the nation. Researchers at the Carnegie Melon University (CMU) have found one possible way to save lives from this deadly epidemic. They developed a simple wearable device that can detect signs of opioid overdose and automatically call for help. In December, 2018 WT | Wearable Technologies reported that the students behind this wearable opioid detector won national awards.
“The problem with opioid overdose deaths is that there is a narrow window of time to save them, and the users will not be in a state to call for help themselves,” Puneetha Ramachandra, a CMU student who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “Our device solves this by continuously monitoring the user’s health, and if an overdose is detected, it calls for immediate help by sounding an alarm and also contacting the user’s emergency contact.”
The device, resembling a smartwatch, is still in prototype. It functions by using pulse oximetry, a noninvasive way of monitoring oxygen levels in blood by shining light from LEDs through the skin and detecting changes in light absorption. During an opioid overdose, the oxygen levels in the person’s blood drops. The device monitors the situation for 10 seconds before sounding the alarm.
The team plans to create blueprints for mass production, and get the device certified. “Once this is done, the initial goal is to sell the device in a small scale, and also distribute it through needle exchange programs by subsidizing it. Based on the feedback from the end users, we plan to upgrade the device and increase production scale,” Ramachandra said.
“Our solution, at the moment, only focuses on preventing overdose deaths. “We do plan to incorporate more helpful features into our device in the future to aid in the addiction aspects of the problem.”