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Scientists develop wristband sensor to track opioid use and cravings

Example of a smart sensor to detect opioid use.
Courtesy UMass Amherst
Example of a smart sensor to detect opioid use.

UMass Amherst scientists have helped develop a wearable sensor they say can tell whether someone is taking opioid drugs — or even craving them.

The research team, which includes scientists from Syracuse University and State University of New York (SUNY), created a wristband that measures things like skin temperature, sweat and heartbeat to determine whether the user has just taken an opioid — or whether they really want to.

UMass computer scientist Tauhidur Rahman said the device could monitor whether someone using prescription opioids for pain is taking too much and becoming addicted.

Rahman said the second function, which measures cravings, would be paired with a mindfulness app that encourages breathing exercises.

"The idea is that, even if we know that I'm craving certain substances, what to do about it, right?" said Rahman. "Because either I could manage my emotion or my craving, or I could give in and consume it."

At this point, Rahman said, the researchers have developed a prototype of the sensor. With a new million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, they hope to evaluate how well the sensor reduces addiction and get it on the market in about five years.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.