Second Chance App Detects Opioid Overdose Amid Opioid Crisis

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a smartphone app that can detect when a drug overdose has occurred.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a mobile app that can detect when a drug overdose has occurred and connect the person to emergency services. The Second Chance app uses sonar to monitor a drug user’s breathing rate and sense when it drops to life-threatening levels.

To test the algorithm behind the app the researchers partnered with Insite, a supervised injection facility in Vancouver, Canada. The investigators monitored participants for a minute before injection to establish a baseline breathing rate, during injection, and for 5 minutes after injection to allow sufficient time for overdose symptoms to occur. Of the 94 participants who tested the algorithm, 47 had a breathing rate ≤7 breaths per minute, 49 stopped breathing for a significant period, and 2 experienced an overdose that required oxygen, ventilation, and/or naloxone treatment. The algorithm accurately detected breathing problems that indicate overdose 90% of the time.

The investigators also worked with anesthesiology teams at the University of Washington Medical Center to simulate overdoses in an operating room. For the simulation, the researchers recruited healthy participants undergoing elective surgeries. The patients received anesthetic medications that led to 30 seconds of slower or absent breathing. The device correctly predicted 19 out of 20 simulated overdoses.

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Jacob Sunshine, MD, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and co-author of the study, is hopeful that the project will yield long-term benefits. “The goal of this project is to try to connect people who are often experiencing overdoses alone to known therapies that can save their lives. We hope that by keeping people safer, they can eventually access long-term treatment.”

The researchers are applying for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and intend to commercialize the technology.


McQuate S. First smartphone app to detect opioid overdose and its precursors. University of Washington. January 9, 2019. Accessed February 7, 2019.