Device To Automatically Stop Opioid Overdoses In Development

By Lindsey Weedston 07/31/19

The groundbreaking device would deliver naloxone throughout the body in the event of an overdose.

device that stops opioid overdoses
Photo via Purdue Engineering

Researchers at Purdue University are working on developing a device that can be injected under a person’s skin that will automatically deploy in the event of an overdose, delivering the opioid-blocking drug, naloxone, into their system.

With this in place, a person’s life could be saved even if they overdose while alone, without anyone to call 911 or administer Narcan—the common naloxone-based nasal spray.

According to Fast Company, the device holding the drug is being designed to be as simple as possible. The tiny capsule is plugged at one end with material that will melt when the metal touching it becomes hot, releasing the drug. This will require an additional device, about the size of a golf ball, that is worn on the arm just outside of the capsule and monitors the wearer’s vitals. 

How It Will Work

During an opioid overdose, the victim’s heart rate and breathing slow to dangerous levels. If this happens, the device would activate a strong magnetic field, heating up the metal touching the plug. The naloxone released into the body will block the opioid receptors in the brain, stopping the drug’s ability to affect the body, and saving the victim’s life.

“The antidote is always going to be with you,” said Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue, Hyowon “Hugh” Lee.

This device is still in the development stage, and it will be at least a few years before it is made available to the public. It needs to be thoroughly tested and gain FDA approval. “If you assume the device is working and it doesn’t, it would be truly problematic,” Lee pointed out.

However, Lee also believes that the device could be further improved and developed into something like a smartwatch, with the capsule injected in the wrist. It could also be used to administer other medications to people with life-threatening conditions such as severe allergies. Someone suffering a dangerous allergic reaction could have the device automatically administer a dose of epinephrine, eliminating the need for these individuals to carry EpiPens or rely on others to inject them.

“People with allergies need epinephrine right away. This setup might remove the need for an epi pen,” Lee said.

More High-Tech Solutions

Purdue isn’t the only institution responding to the opioid crisis with high-tech solutions. A contractor from Boston recently began deploying a system he developed to create overdose-resistant bathrooms. John King’s invention can alert employees of convenience stores, coffee shops, and other establishments with single-use bathrooms if a person has fallen to the floor and hasn’t stood up for several seconds.

This system has already allowed employees to respond quickly to overdose cases, ensuring that naloxone can be administered soon enough to save lives.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: