Opioid overdose detection using a smartphone app


  • Dawn O'Shea
  • Univadis Medical News
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Scientists have developed new software for smartphones that can quickly and noninvasively detect early signs of opioid overdoses, according to a new study.

The proof-of-concept contactless system converts the phone into a short-range active sonar using frequency shifts to identify respiratory depression, apnoea, and gross motor movements associated with acute opioid toxicity.

In the research, published in Science Translational Medicine, the smartphone app detected respiratory depression and apnoea in opioid users in an injection facility and during simulated overdoses using general anaesthesia in an operating theatre.

In the supervised injection facility, the app - installed on a Galaxy S4 smartphone placed within one meter of the participants (n=209) - identified post-injection, opioid-induced central apnoea with 96 per cent sensitivity and 98 per cent specificity, and identified respiratory depression with 87 per cent sensitivity and 89 per cent specificity. The technology identified 19 of 20 simulated overdose events.

Although further optimisation is needed, the app holds potential as a cost-effective tool for identifying early-stage overdoses.

The authors say, given the reliable reversibility of acute opioid toxicity, smartphone-enabled overdose detection coupled with the ability to alert naloxone-equipped friends and family or emergency medical services could hold potential as a low-barrier, harm reduction intervention.

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