3. Opioid app aims to cut overdose deaths
Researchers have developed a phone app they say could reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths by using sonar to detect symptoms and urgently message family, friends or emergency responders, Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes.
Why it matters: Opioid overdoses kill an average of 130 Americans per day, but the immediate administration of naloxone and supportive respiratory care can dramatically reduce the death rate, the researchers tell Axios. The app is the subject of a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.
Yes, but: Outside experts, meanwhile, say that while this may be a good step toward developing more tools, the technology is not advanced enough to target areas that would more significantly impact the epidemic.
Background: Most unintentional opioid deaths are caused by respiratory failure, which exhibits two main precursors — frequent cessation of breathing or breathing drops to 7 breaths/minute or lower. After the overdose, there is a 5–10 minute window to administer naloxone, a medication-assisted treatment that reverses the temporary breathing symptoms.
"By targeting these precursors, we hope to detect overdose early, to maximize the window between when someone is in trouble and summoning help."— Study author Jacob Sunshine tells Axios
What they did: The University of Washington research team developed the app, called Second Chance, and tested it in two locations: a supervised-injection facility in Vancouver and an operating room where they simulated overdose events.
How it works: The system works by transforming the phone into an active sonar, similar to a bat or submarine, study author Shyamnath Gollakota says.
- The phone's speaker transmits inaudible acoustic signals, which receive reflections off the human body to monitor breathing.
- If overdose symptoms are detected, it would notify naloxone-equipped friends, family or emergency medical services.
What they found: At the Vancouver facility, the app detected symptoms 90% of the time for up to 3 feet. At the operating room, it alerted 19 of the 20 simulated overdoses.
Limitations: The authors say most of the research was in monitored situations, so they are looking to repeat in a more natural location.
Go deeper: Opioids app aims to lower response times for overdose victims