The opioid epidemic in the US kills 115 Americans every day, with fentanyl by far the biggest killer. Per year, drugs in the US are deadlier than gun violence or car crashes. But if caught in time, opioid overdoses are entirely reversible. A new smartphone app might one day help save lives by identifying people when they have overdosed—and then calling their family or emergency services for help.
The system, developed by a team from the University of Washington, effectively converts a phone into a sonar device using the built-in speaker and microphone. An algorithm analyzes the rate of reflected sound waves to identify if someone’s breathing has slowed or stopped (apnea), or if the person isn’t moving—all of which could signal that an overdose has started.
The system was tested on 194 participants using heroin, fentanyl, or morphine in a supervised injection facility in Vancouver. It managed to accurately identify apnea 97.7% of the time and slow breathing 89.3% of the time. All participants who overdosed were resuscitated by onsite staff.
The team hopes to integrate the app with 911 and emergency services so help can get to people who’ve overdosed as quickly as possible. It has also applied to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration so it can spin the technology out into a company.
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