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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, January 12, 2019 1:00 am

App designed to catch drug overdoses

Opioid overdoses create life-or-death scenarios every day. Even those who haven't been touched by the epidemic have heard how easily someone who has taken too many pain pills, injected heroin or inadvertently ingested fentanyl slips away. Breathing slows, and death can follow.

The lethal process can be quickly reversed if naloxone is administered in time. Emergency workers carry the antidote now, and friends and families of victims may have it on hand as well. But overdoses can happen so quickly and quietly, even a family member in the next room may not be aware anything is wrong until it's too late.

In such situations, an app being tested by researchers at the University of Washington might turn a smartphone into a lifesaving device. The Second Chance app uses sonar to detect when someone's breathing has slowed or stopped.

According to Modern Healthcare, “The software coverts the phone's built-in speaker and microphone to send out inaudible soundwaves and record how they bounce back. Analyzing the signals shows specific breathing patterns.” The app could sound an alarm, or might even be programmed to dial emergency responders.

Tested at North America's first supervised injection site in Vancouver, British Columbia, the app correctly identified the signs of overdose 90 percent of the time, Modern Healthcare reported.

Skeptics point out that those susceptible to opioid overdoses are often not thinking clearly and might be unlikely to think of turning on the app before they shoot up. But researchers say the app could become a vital resource for someone struggling to overcome addiction.