Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 21, 2022

How technology could aid overdoses during opioid crisis

Technology and healthcare have always gone hand in hand, and with the health of the world in crisis at the moment through the medium of addiction, researchers are working hard to understand how technology can be a potential life saver.

In the USA especially, it’s an interesting time in the space. On the one hand, you’ve got states legalising cannabis for both recreational and medicinal usage, and on the other you’ve got more opioid overdoses than ever before thanks to the rapid rise of fentanyl abuse.

Of course, cannabis overdoses are incredibly low, but the chance of addiction is still high and cannabis rehab may be worth looking into to avoid longer term health conditions. However, in the shorter term, the damage being caused by opioids is significant.

Government officials are trying a number of different techniques to try and prevent overdoses, such as increasing access to Narcan, while Joe Biden has pumped $1.5billion in to try and ease the opioid crisis in the country.

However, researchers at Washington State University have also found that technology can also help curb opioid overdoses.

A pilot programme by the university has shown that noninvasive home sensors could provide the accurate information needed to aid people overdosing. The study found that the sensors could provide information on overnight restlessness and sleep problems to identify those suffering from withdrawal symptoms overnight, which can then in turn increase the risk of accidental overdose and resumed drug taking.

The study monitored sleeping patterns due to the fact that disrupted sleep is one of the main complaints of people trying to quit opioids, and while methadone is successful in quelling cravings and withdrawal symptoms, it can wear off in the night with withdrawal symptoms then kicking in. This often has then led to people relapsing.

The aim of the study was then to see if they could create a system in which it can alert healthcare workers, identify the problem and prompt medication changes accordingly.

Marian Wilson, a nursing professor at Washington State University said of the study: “Our study confirms what people with opioid use disorder have been saying — their sleep can be restless and disturbed. We need to appreciate that people may be suffering.

“There’s a misconception that substance use is all about that euphoric ‘high.’ By the time people get into a methadone treatment program, they’re usually just trying to feel normal.”

The technology could prove to change the game when it comes to monitoring those looking to withdraw from opioids, and while it hasn’t been tested in the home yet, only in labs, the next steps could prove to be hugely valuable at a time when countries and those within them need all the help they can get to overcome the opioid crisis.

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