UW researchers create lifesaving device that reverses opioid overdoses

Opioid overdoses have become a health crisis, with mortality increasing over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the study.

The drug Naloxone sits on a table during a free Opioid Overdose Prevention Training class provided by Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, New York, US, April 5, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)
The drug Naloxone sits on a table during a free Opioid Overdose Prevention Training class provided by Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, New York, US, April 5, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) built a wearable device that can detect when the wearer has overdosed on opioids and inject them with naloxone, a drug that restores respiratory function.

The researchers published their findings on Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

Opioid overdoses have become a health crisis, with mortality increasing over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the UW study. Many deaths from opioid overdoses involve the powerful drug fentanyl.

Naloxone has saved countless lives. When a person overdoses on opioids such as fentanyl, their respiratory system can be severely depressed, to the point where they may stop breathing completely. The drug acts as an agonist, quickly restoring breathing functions, according to the study.

The device, for which the researchers are trying to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, uses accelerometers and a microcontroller to detect when the wearer stops breathing, quickly injecting the naloxone.

Bystanders watch as a Cataldo Ambulance EMT carries to the ambulance a man in his 40's who was found unresponsive after overdosing on an opioid in the Boston suburb of Salem, Massachusetts, US, August 9, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)Bystanders watch as a Cataldo Ambulance EMT carries to the ambulance a man in his 40's who was found unresponsive after overdosing on an opioid in the Boston suburb of Salem, Massachusetts, US, August 9, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)

Shyam Gollakota, a computer science and engineering professor at UW and one of the study's co-authors, emphasized the potential of the device to save lives:

“This wearable auto-injector may have the potential to reduce fatalities due to opioid overdoses. We are hopeful it can have a tangible impact on a big source of suffering in this country,” he said.