New smartphone app can detect overdoses and call for help

Scientists have built an app that gives a smartphone the ability to detect an opioid overdose and alert others for help. The app, called Second Chances, is still in development, but the researchers hope to have it approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and eventually sell the technology.

With over 110 Americans dying each day from opioid overdoses, the opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history. “It’s a huge public health problem and also one where the diagnostic signs and mechanisms of how people die is really well-established,” says Jacob Sunshine, an anesthesiologist at the University of Washington and co-author of the Second Chances study, which was published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine. In other words, when people overdose, their breathing changes in a specific and predictable pattern. Second Chances uses sonar technology to detect these changes and alert a friend, relative, or doctor who can then provide overdose-reversal drugs like Naloxone.

The app works by sending silent sound waves to people’s chests from up to three feet away, explains Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, a doctoral candidate in computer science at the University of Washington and the first author on the paper. It then monitors the signals that get reflected back because they change when breathing patterns do.

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