UBC grad students developing wearable overdose detection device

A team of UBC medical and engineering graduate students is working on a wearable device they hope will be used to save lives by detecting an impending overdose.

Sampath Satti, one of the device's creators, says it works by monitoring the wearer's movement and breathing rate for changes, which are two of the biggest indicators of an upcoming opiate overdose.

"Once it senses these changes, it can alert bystanders in the area to inform them that someone's about to go down and that they need naloxone," Satti said.

Satti described the current prototype as a "bulky box that sits on the wrist," but his team hopes the final version will look something like a wristwatch. They hope to be able to produce the devices for $30 a unit.

The team believes the device can give as much as six minutes advance warning before irreversible brain damage occurs.

Targeted at those using alone

Satti says the device is intended to help with one of the primary challenges in fighting the ongoing overdose crisis: that most overdose deaths happen when people are using alone.

"We envision this as a sort of car alarm which has a radius of around a block, so it'll not be just people in the room [who are alerted], but people who might be 20 to 30 metres away," he said.

Though the device is still in prototype phase and requires further testing, Satti says the device may be useful in helping SRO caretakers check on residents, for example.

But although the device is intended for those using alone, Satti says it's not meant to encourage it.

"We definitely don't want [false confidence] to be an outcome of the use of this device," Satti said.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.