A preliminary study suggests the use of wearable biosensors may be a partial solution to combating the epidemic of opioid abuse raging across America.
University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers lead by Stephanie Carreiro investigated if wearable biosensors could detect the use of opioids. The biosensors are capable of detecting movement patterns and body temperature changes that occur after an opioid is injected or consumed.
Specifically, researchers tested the use of wristband sensors worn by a group of patients in an emergency room setting who received IV opioids for severe pain relief.
The study appears in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.
Non-invasive devices worn close to the body are becoming popular among other uses as health tracking tools. These small and user-friendly biosensors provide continuous data that can be stored and reviewed later, or be transmitted wirelessly to allow for real time review and analysis.
Researchers admit, however, that more data on physical changes and activity are needed before such devices can be put into use as part of substance abuse treatment programs. To that end, numerous studies are underway to determine the biometric profiles of people who are using opioids. In the current study, Carreiro’s team conducted preliminary research involving 30 emergency room patients.
The patients were prescribed intravenous opioid analgesics to treat their acute pain. The particular medication and dose administered to each patient was decided on by the attending physician. The patients agreed to wear a wristband biosensor, which allowed the researchers to detect how the patients’ bodies reacted to the dosages.
The patients were asked how often in the past they had used opioids, and their medical records were also investigated. Heavy users were classified as those who chronically used opioids daily, were part of an opioid maintenance therapy program (involving for instance the drugs methadone and buprenorphine), or abused the drug.
Researchers determined, it was possible to detect when an opioid was administered, based on the readings of the biosensor. The wearable detected that patients moved less after they received the drug, and that their skin temperature also rose. These are among the ways in which the body is known to react to an opioid.
Distinguishable features were also found between heavy and non-heavy opioid users, and between different age groups. In particular, there was a greater decrease in the so-called short amplitude movements of heavy users and older patients, which means that they became less fidgety.
“The patterns may be useful to detect episodes of opioid use in real time,” says Carreiro, who says that more work is needed before wearable biosensors can become part of treatment programs.
“The ability to identify instances of opioid use and opioid tolerance in real time could for instance be helpful to manage pain or during substance abuse treatment.”
Investigators believe the use of biosensors have numerous applications toward managing opioid use and potential addiction. The wrist ban sensors could help monitor developing opioid tolerance and identify people who are at risk for substance abuse or addiction.
The sensors could also be applied to opioid addicts in rehabilitation to detect whether they are relapsing. Such relapse data can either be reviewed retrospectively or transmitted wirelessly to trigger an intervention (for example to alert a family member or a community support system).