Opioid overdoses continue to tear apart our communities. There were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the U.S in 2017, according to the CDC, of which 47,600 were opioid overdoses. West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Kentucky had the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in 2017, but nineteen additional states also saw significant increases in the number of overdose deaths that year. Solutions to fight the epidemic range from a challenge from the FDA, work with telemedicine to combat addiction and support addicts, a smartphone app that promise to help addicts avoid relapse, and more.

Masters degree students at Carnegie Mellon’s Institute for Software Research have developed a prototype wristband can detect opioid overdose in the wearer. The team of four engineering students face three challenges. The wearable had to accurately detect opioid overdose, send alerts to rescuers in time for them to administer a dose of the opioid antagonist naloxone, and not cost too much to produce.

The students combined a pulse oximetry sensor and Bluetooth wireless transceiver in their device. The pulse oximeter measures blood oxygen level based on reflected light from the wearer’s skin. The device takes readings on a regular basis to establish a baseline. If the sensor detects blood oxygen level dropping for more than 30 seconds, a green LED on the wearable switches to red. The the device also triggers a Bluetooth-connected smartphone to send alerts including GPS coordinates to predetermined emergency contacts.

The next steps in the opioid overdose detector include refining the prototype and building in additional sensors to improve the accuracy of the go/no-go decision. Following those refinements, the group plans to start clinical trials in preparation for creating a commercially-available device.