Biosensors May Accurately Track and Predict Opioid Use

Evidence from a small study suggests that a wearable device may be effective in monitoring patients’ use of opioid medications. The Q sensor, a wristband biosensor made by Affectiva Inc. measures skin temperature and locomotion, and was initially developed to monitor children with epilepsy or autism. It has also been used in marketing focus groups to assess consumer responses to advertising, and has been tested as an “engagement pedometer” to measure middle school students’ interest in different subjects. But researchers additionally found that the monitored data can fairly accurately track and predict opioid use. Patients on opioid therapy or in addiction treatment with methadone or buprenorphine are likely to show restless activity due to cravings for the medication. Sudden decreases in movement and increases in skin temperature were found to associate with having taken more of the opioid. Lead author Stephanie Carreiro, MD, professor of emergency medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School, commented, "The patterns may be useful to detect episodes of opioid use in real time. 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."

The study followed 30 emergency room patients who were given opioids for severe acute pain. The subjects wore the Q sensor for 4 months, which measured electrodermal activity, skin temperature, and locomotion data before and after intravenous opioid administration. Hilbert transform analyses combined with paired t-tests were used to compare the biosensor data A) within subjects, before and after administration of opioids; and B) between subjects, based on hand dominance, gender, and opioid use history. A consistent physiological pattern related to skin temperature and motion levels was observed, that could distinguish heavy and nonheavy opioid users. The authors note that current drug detection methods are of limited usefulness due to their retrospective and subjective nature, and that the potential for application of biosensor data to patient monitoring in addiction treatment and pain management warrants further study. The study data were presented as a platform session at the Society for Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting in April of this year, and were published last month in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.

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