Device could help reverse opioid overdose

Researchers at Purdue University are developing a device that would automatically detect when a person is experiencing a drug overdose and deliver naloxone, a drug known to reverse deadly effects.

“The device wouldn’t require you to recognize that you’re having an overdose or to inject yourself with naloxone, keeping you stable long enough for emergency services to arrive,” says Hyowon “Hugh” Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue.

An overdose happens when opioids bind to receptors in the brain that regulate breathing, causing the person to hypoventilate and die. About 130 people in the U.S. die daily from opioid-related drug overdoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Wearing the device would be similar to wearing an insulin pump.

As the Purdue research team explains it, the current proof of concept is an armband that straps on a magnetic field generator, connected to a portable battery worn at the hip. A sticker-like EKG sensor on the skin, such as on the chest, measures respirator rate. When the sensor detects a respiration rate that’s too low, it activates the magnetic field generator to heat up a drug capsule in the body, releasing naloxone in 10 seconds.

Researchers said they envision the drug capsule being pre-injected under the skin in an outpatient setting. Then the device system would automatically deliver naloxone to the patient during an overdose, buying enough time for emergency medical responders to get that individual to a hospital.

The device has been patented through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. Researchers also plan to build a communications system into the device to alert emergency services when the patient overdoses.

Their research appears in the Journal of Controlled Release and also released at EurekAlert, an online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.