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We Now Have an App for Detecting Opioid Overdoses

A new app could save thousands of lives by helping people detect opioid overdoses with their smartphones

The app, called Second Chance, was created by researchers at the University of Washington. By using sonar to monitor a person’s breathing rate - one of the main indicators of an overdose - the app can determine whether a person is overdosing from up to three feet away. And if the phone owner is using opioids all by themselves, the phone could save their lives by automatically reaching out for help.

"The idea is that people can use the app during opioid use so that if they overdose, the phone can potentially connect them to a friend or emergency services to provide naloxone," said co-corresponding author Shyam Gollakota. "Here we show that we have created an algorithm for a smartphone that is capable of detecting overdoses by monitoring how someone's breathing changes before and after opioid use."

And that could save thousands of lives since over 130 people die every day due to opioid overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

On top of monitoring sound waves, the app as well as monitoring the person’s movement to see if they have lost consciousness. For now, it can't interact with phone owners, but this is something the creators will look toward in the future.

"When the app detects decreased or absent breathing, we'd like it to send an alarm asking the person to interact with it," Gollakota said. "Then if the person fails to interact with it, that's when we say: 'OK this is a stage where we need to alert someone,' and the phone can contact someone with naloxone."

So the smartphone could become the tool that health officials have been desperately seeking to combat the opioid epidemic. 

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