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Wearable Devices to detect Opioid Overdose in High Risk Populations

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Anne Campbell, Sharon Millen and Amanda Taylor–Beswick from our Drugs and Alcohol Network (DARN) worked with Dr Li Guo (University of Manchester) on a study, designed in collaboration with service users, to co-develop, co-refine and test ‘wearable’ devices for opioid overdose. The wearable technology is an established device developed previously for the elderly population by Dr Guo, designed to monitor respiratory rate and blood oxygen in order to create a machine learning algorithm of a pattern of behaviour.

The DARN study assessed the feasibility of ‘wearing’ the device within a sample of a homeless hostel population. The individuals wore it whilst in the homeless shelter (for participant protection), under the supervision of hostel staff. Focus groups were held with individuals in Maghaberry prison and Hydebank College to ascertain the views of those who are at risk of opioid overdose on return to the community.

This feasibility study aimed to:

  • Test acceptability and practicality of wearing a device.
  • Obtain an overview of workers’ experiences of the protocol in the hostel in a general overdose situation and their views on the service users wearing a device.
  • Refine the wearables in view of the results from the co–production work with opioid users in prison and in a homeless hostel in Belfast.
  • Assess whether the data recorded on the device can be successfully transferred to a server at University of Manchester.
  • Create an algorithm of a pattern of behaviour that can be determined by respiratory rate and blood oxygen.

Preliminary results from interviews and focus group discussion indicate that the wearables were welcomed by service users. They indicated that they should be discreet devices, smaller than the current prototype, that would not have a re-sale value. They also said that it was important to make clear to potential wearers that it is not a ‘tracking device’ and that GPS linked to emergency services is only activated if blood oxygen indicates a risk to life. A tailored education campaign should accompany the launch of the wearables in phase two of the project.

The study report, including analysis of the server data and the qualitative results, will be launched in January 2022.