New Technology Claims to Automatically Reverse Opioid Overdose

Drug addiction kills—sometimes from long-term effects on physical health, and sometimes immediately. From April 2020 to April 2021, over 100,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdose (up 28.5 percent from the April 2019–2020 total), and more than three-fourths [1] of those fatalities were triggered by opioid overdose. As the director of national drug control policy put it: “Each day, we’re losing enough people to fill a Boeing 757 passenger jet,” while federal and state governments struggle to find, fund and coordinate truly effective remedies [2].

Naloxone to Reverse Opioid Overdose

The most effective way to reverse overdoses before they kill is to administer naloxone medication (brand name Narcan) [3]. First made available to the public in 1996, by 2014 naloxone kits were credited with having saved nearly 27,000 lives [4].

Helpful as naloxone is, it depends on someone’s recognizing overdose symptoms and properly administering the dose in time. If no one present knows what to do, or if the dose is inadequate (as frequently happens with the most potent opioid, fentanyl) or if an overdose victim is alone and incapacitated (as in more than half of fatal overdoses), an available antidote is little better than nothing.

Recently, a new technology has appeared that could get around that problem and save thousands more lives [5]. Developed by researchers at the University of Washington and currently awaiting FDA approval, the wearable device is programmed to track breathing, to recognize opioid-induced changes in breathing patterns (often the first symptom of a dangerous overdose) and to automatically inject naloxone if breathing stops altogether. Since naloxone is not considered dangerous if administered to someone who is suspected of overdosing (but has not actually taken opioids), there is little risk of harm from the device “firing” accidentally.

Getting Well for the Long Term

While some may see this approach as a harm reduction strategy that perpetuates addiction, this tool has potential. This invention may help more people to live through an overdose, realize the severity of their problem and seek treatment.

Deciding to pursue recovery from opioid addiction (or any substance use disorder) is not a simple matter of swearing never to take the substance again: most people with addiction have unsuccessfully tried that route multiple times. The road to true recovery begins with professional help and committed peer support.

Whether or not you have ever suffered an overdose, if you suspect that you (or someone you’re close to) are addicted to opioids, the best time to take action is immediately.

  • Go to a doctor and get an official diagnosis of substance use disorder.
  • Contact an addiction-medicine hospital with an established reputation, and schedule yourself for detox and aftercare with therapy.
  • Expect the full process to take about three months. If concerned about being away for that long, ask about outpatient treatment options.
  • Follow instructions on preparing for treatment, including instructions on what to bring (and not bring) to the center.
  • Recognize that, even after detox, addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. Stay aware of the danger of relapse (and what to do if it happens—your counselors may advise keeping naloxone in your first aid kit). And stay active in a long-term support
  • Don’t expect the recovery process to be easy—but keep reminding yourself that a better future awaits on the other side.

A Future After Opioid Overdose

Prompt treatment for opioid overdose can save thousands of lives; but giving up opioid misuse is the only way to improve long-term quality of life and prevent future overdoses. Where opioid misuse has reached the point of addiction, the recovery journey begins with medically supervised detox and professional counseling.

Cumberland Heights provides those services and more: inpatient facilities, outpatient care, family programs and programs tailored to individual needs. Your options for surviving opioid addiction shouldn’t stop at overdose reversal. Contact us today to start your full-recovery journey!