Overdose-Resistant Bathrooms Are Coming To Boston

By Lindsey Weedston 05/16/19

The new system can alert employees to possible overdose cases and allow them to take action before it’s too late.

Overdose-Resistant Bathrooms

A Boston-based contractor is currently developing and implementing a system to detect overdose in bathrooms so that employees at common locations for drug use can be alerted to an overdose and intervene, according to Filter.

The technology, which detects if a person in a single-occupancy bathroom has fallen to the floor and laid unmoving for an extended period of time, could save lives—if companies agree to adopt it.

As the opioid epidemic rages on in the U.S., people without a safe place to use drugs have come to use public bathrooms in fast food restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, homeless shelters and health clinics for this purpose.

Particularly as fentanyl contamination becomes more common, overdose cases are spiking. Busy employees are unable to keep track of how long every customer has been in the bathroom and some find themselves dealing with overdose deaths on a regular basis.

This new system, created by John King, can alert employees to a possible overdose and allow them to take action before it’s too late. The technology has already been tested at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and has been incredibly successful, according to Chief Medical Officer Jessie Gaeta.

“We have about five overdoses a week in our facility, and since we installed John’s system none have been fatal,” said Gaeta.

A similar system created by the Brave Cooperative in Vancouver, BC, goes a step further by using radar to calculate the breathing rates of individuals using the bathroom. This could be even more effective than King’s system due to the fact that opioid overdose can cause seizures or spasms during unconsciousness, which might render an anti-movement detector useless. 

While health clinics and other non-profit organizations have been eager to adopt systems like King’s, selling them to for-profit businesses may be more difficult due to fears of litigation if the system fails. 

“We live in a litigious society,” says King. “If someone goes into a bathroom with an expectation of being revived if they overdose and they die… well, businesses are afraid of being sued.”

However, the threat of being sued may be preferable to the costs of regularly finding bodies in customer bathrooms.

Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorders Initiative Director Sarah Wakeman believes that the ability to effectively intervene and save lives could reduce that trauma.

“There’s definitely secondary trauma to witnessing overdoses and seeing people near death,” she said to The Atlantic. “I think it’s much more traumatizing to find someone dead in the bathroom and not be able to help them.”

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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 NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston