Overdose Detection Technologies

Communities can encourage adoption of overdose detection technologies that enable timely medical intervention

Those with substance use disorder who consume drugs alone are especially at risk for death since there are no witnesses to respond to a possible overdose. To help minimize this risk, technologies and phone apps have been developed to provide non-intrusive, privacy-protecting overdose detection that triggers a call for immediate assistance, for example treatment with naloxone. Community stakeholders engaged in reducing overdose deaths can encourage adoption of these technologies by opioid users and by facilities where overdoses tend to occur, for example in public restrooms at medical centers and restaurants. Existing detection technologies and apps include:

  • Anti-motion alarm systems for public restrooms, such as that developed by Life Saver Alert, LLC.
  • Smartphone apps that monitor for a user's inactivity, such as the Canary App
  • Virtual overdose monitoring services that a user can contact and keep online during drug consumption, such as the Brave App and Never Use Alone, Inc.
  • Wearable devices that both detect and in some cases reverse an opioid overdose, as described herehere, here, and here.

A 2023 literature review gives detailed descriptions of these and other overdose detection technologies and apps. An analysis of data from the Canada's National Overdose Response System found that monitoring apps have been used to successfully reverse opioid overdoses, and a survey found acceptance of a restroom overdose detection system among first responders in a medical facility. News reports on the restroom anti-motion detection system are available here and here. A recent international review of 14 studies involving these technologies found that overdose detection can play a critical role in responding to the opioid crisis.

Virtual monitoring apps and motion detecting technologies can facilitate timely and anonymous access to emergency care for people who use opioids.

Continuum of Care
Harm Reduction
Type of Evidence
Response Approach
Overdose prevention
Post-overdose response
Peer-reviewed Article

Evidence of Program Effectiveness

 "Virtual overdose monitoring services ...can facilitate timely and anonymous access to emergency care for people who use substances...[A] study showed that a smartphone-enabled device for overdose detection that was capable of alerting naloxone-equipped laypeople or EMS may be a feasible harm reduction tool...[P]ilot data from the National Overdose Response Service suggests that virtual overdose monitoring services have promise as an adjunct to supervised consumption services in the continuum of care for people who use substances." Matskiv et al., 2022.

"ODTs [overdose detection technologies] are a promising set of interventions that could improve community safety and reduce solitary overdose deaths." Lombardi et al. 2023