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UW overdose app
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UW researchers developing app to detect opiate overdoses

(Mark Stone / University of Washington)

Researchers at the University of Washington are testing an app they hope will save heroin users from an overdose.

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The app, called Second Chance, sits on a table and uses sonar to detect when someone stops breathing.

“When the person is breathing, their chest moves when they are exhaling and inhaling,” lead researcher Rajalakshmi Nandakumar told KIRO Radio. “The sound signals get reflected off this moving chest, and it’s recorded by the microphone.”

If they’re not breathing, the project’s lead researcher says the app can call 911 for you, using a pre-recorded message to alert emergency medical services.

According to researchers, the app can detect overdose-related symptoms with a 90 percent success rate, and can monitor breathing from up to three feet away.

It can also monitor certain motions characteristic of overdosing, such as a slumped head.

In the testing phase, researchers worked with anesthesiology teams at UW Medical Center to simulate overdoses in operating rooms. Patients undergoing anesthesia exhibit many of the same symptoms as someone overdosing, making it the ideal risk-free testing ground.

Right now, the app is limited to monitoring its users, but the ultimate goal is to have it actually interact at various stages of an overdose.

All in all, the goal is to combat the region’s opioid epidemic from a different, yet effective angle.

“We’re experiencing an unprecedented epidemic of deaths from opioid use, and it’s unfortunate because these overdoses are completely reversible if they’re detected in time,” said UW Medicine anesthesiologist Jacob Sunshine in a news release.

RELATED: King County sets new record for deaths from drug overdoses

The app has been tested at safe injection sites in British Columbia, as researchers apply for FDA approval.


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