Experimental smartphone app detects overdose of drugs




and calls emergency services
American researchers are working on a smartphone app that can detect when a drug user takes an overdose. In such an emergency situation, the app also immediately alerts the emergency services.

When a drug user takes an overdose, this is accompanied by a very specific and predictable respiratory pattern, one of the researchers tells The Verge . Second Chances, as the app is called in development, uses sonar technology to detect those changes in the pattern. The app, activated shortly before drug intake, sends sound waves to the user’s chest, and then analyzes the sound that is reflected back. According to the researchers, this works accurately up to a distance of one meter.

In case of emergency, Second Chances automatically contacts a doctor, friend, family member or someone else who can be on site quickly to administer naloxone, a so-called opioid anti-dummy. To guarantee the privacy of the user, all data is encrypted. “No use is made of the camera or speech, we only use the reflection of the sonar sound”, explains one of the doctors involved.

To refine the algorithm of the app, Second Chance was tested in a clinic in Vancouver with 194 test subjects. The app recognized 96 percent of overdoses where breathing had stopped for ten seconds or less, and 87 percent of cases where breathing was significantly slower. The Second Chance team is currently working on refining the app to reduce the chance of false positive diagnoses. The application will then be submitted for approval to the US Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the quality of food and medicines.


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