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UBC students design watch-like device that can detect overdoses
Published Thursday, March 30, 2017 5:38PM PDT Last Updated Thursday, March 30, 2017 6:33PM PDT
As the death toll in B.C.'s drug overdose crisis continues to rise, a group of university students has designed a piece of wearable technology that could potentially save lives.
The six medical, engineering and design students from the University of British Columbia put their heads together to create a watch-like device capable of detecting if the wearer is overdosing.
Using technology similar to fitness trackers, the device senses if the wearer has stopped moving and started breathing slowly. If those warning signs are detected, an alarm is triggered that can alert people nearby.
Sampath Satti, a biomedical engineering Master’s student, said the team was motivated by the province's startling overdose problem; there were 102 suspected drug overdose deaths last month, a 73 per cent increase over the previous February.
Drug users are no different than non-users, Satti added.
"We feel like we need to do what we can, what we're capable of in terms of our technological knowledge, to help them," Satti said.
"At its very core level, that is the motivation and drive behind the project."
They mean it, too. Their project is open source, with all of their documents published freely for others to use or improve upon.
The alarm-based design is deliberate, informed by the fact that roughly 90 per cent of fatal overdoses happen indoors. Satti said the device is intended to beckon someone who might have a dose of naloxone, the opioid antidote that can reverse the effects of an overdose.
"We began asking the question: if there's so many naloxone kits available in the Downtown Eastside, why are there so many people still dying?" Satti said.
"Intervention time in a case like an overdose, especially with drugs like fentanyl, is critical. So a faster response time is what we hope to achieve with this device."
Advocates are confident the students’ watch could help prevent tragedies.
"We're excited to see it save lives," said Sarah Blyth of the Overdose Prevention Society, who applauded the team’s efforts.
"These guys are doing something really great with their time, and using their experience and intelligence on something that helps other people. And I think that's wonderful."
The team's next goal is to get the cost of fabrication down to $35, the same as a naloxone kit. The current design costs $50, but Satti said it uses a lot of off-the-shelf components.
"We're definitely confident that with some engineering built into this, and some better design, that we can bring the cost down much further,” he added.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim