BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — More than 100,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States last year, most of them attributable to opioids.
“We felt it was a big problem facing our society which needed a new and creative solution,” professor Ken Mackie said.
Mackie along with his partner Feng Guo came up with that creative solution in the form of a patch that will be able to deliver a dose of the drug naloxone to reverse an overdose.
“On one side is a sensor that continuously monitors the patient’s blood pressure, oxygenation of the blood, respiratory rate, and pulse rate,” Mackie explained. “Then it feeds those values continuously into an app on the patient’s cell phone.”
If the app detects a depression of the patient’s respiratory system, which is a sign of an overdose, it will send a signal to the patch to distribute a dose of naloxone. The researchers say the patch will continue to monitor vital signs and will be able to administer a second dose if needed.
Once an overdose is detected, the app will also have the ability to call 911 and alert first responders.
Some have questioned whether the patch would encourage further drug use, but Mackie says previous data on naloxone has not shown that to be true.
“There’s always the worry ‘are you doing something that encourages a poor behavior,’” Mackie said. “That has to be balanced against the ‘are you doing something that will prevent people from dying.’”
So far, the researchers have seen good results in their studies on mice.
The graph above shows the success of the patch in the experiments on mice. The blue line shows the respiratory levels of a normal mouse. The red and black line mice were given fentanyl and they began to overdose which is why their respiratory levels drastically dropped.
The mouse represented by the black line was wearing the patch. Following the dose of naloxone, the respiratory function was restored to normal levels while the red line mouse continues to have suppressed respiratory function.
Results of the experiments were successful enough to secure a $3.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The team is now working on scaling up the patch and improving its detection accuracy to more than 98 percent. It will be years before it hits the market as it would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Both Mackie and Guo hope it will eventually be able to prevent numerous, unnecessary deaths.