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A Bradley University professor's wearable device could take the 'human element' out of administering overdose antidotes

Opioid Crisis Settlement
Mark Lennihan/AP
FILE - This Aug. 29, 2018, file photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York. A $26 billion settlement between the three biggest U.S. drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and thousands of states and municipalities that sued over the toll of the opioid crisis is certainly significant, but it is far from tying a neat bow on the tangle of still unresolved lawsuits surrounding the epidemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

More than 100,000 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose last year, and more than 1.2 million could be lost to the drug epidemic within the next decade.

A Bradley University professor is part of a research team working on a prototype wearable opioid overdose antidote injection device which could ensure that grim death estimate never comes to fruition.

Mohammad Imtiaz has a background in both electrical engineering and medical research. He said white the drugs naloxone and nalmefene are highly effective at saving someone from an overdose, they're also dependent on having someone around to administer them to a patient.

"Most of the overdoses happen unwitnessed. Nobody's there to see this. And it said, you know, a simple injection of this antidote would have saved them," Imtiaz said. "The problem is, even if they have it with them, as soon as they overdose, very frequently, they will be cognitively not able to do this. They might be unconscious. And it's a sad thing."

Enter the device Imtiaz and his team are developing. The prototype, about the size of a matchbox, is stuck to the patient with medical-grade adhesive. The device monitors the patient's blood oxygen levels for signs of hypoxia, a classic physical symptom of an opioid overdose.

"As soon as it detects the percentage of this oxygen saturation (is) less than 90%, it actually triggers our automatic response," he said. "So the response is essentially, it injects a needle into the person, and then this needle injects the required antidote, and hopefully it saves their lives."

The device is also embedded with a GPS device, and programmed to call 911 after administering a dose of nalmefene - and to administer additional doses if blood oxygen saturation levels don't improve with the first injection.

Screenshot 2022-02-21 151614.jpg
Mohammad Imtiaz, Charles Bandoian & Thomas Santoro
Scientific Reports
A design overview of the wearable automated opioid overdose antidote injection system under development by Imtiaz and his research partners.

Imtiaz said the device avoids the problem of leaving a needle indefinitely embedded in a user's body by only triggering via a two-chambered pump when blood oxygen saturation levels dip below the threshold.

Imtiaz said the ideal wearer of the device is a person deemed higher risk for an overdose due to preexisting substance abuse disorder. He said it could be incorporated into a larger treatment program. Patients would need to be screened for other disorders which could trigger decreasing blood oxygen saturation to avoid inadvertently triggering the response, Imtiaz said.

The device's basic design is complete. Imtiaz said the next step is to design a prototype. He said the first prototype may be 3D printed, but the researchers are looking for partners to establish relationships with to produce a marketable simulation.

"We hope that this human element is taken out, and a lot of lives are saved," said Imtiaz.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.