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B.C. man creates wrist device that detects overdose, calls for help

The device is called ODEN. It can send an alert to emergency services when a person's heart rate hits a range indicative of an overdose.
The opioid crisis has claimed the lives of almost 12,000 people in B.C. since the province declared it a public health emergency in April 2016.

A B.C. man has invented a wearable device that could save someone from an overdose.

Alex McGovern of Coquitlam developed the wrist technology, dubbed ODEN. The device picks up on immediate signs of an overdose and notifies emergency services.

"Substance use and addiction is something that affects many Canadians and families in one way or another, and we need to work to remove the stigma that surrounds it," says McGovern.  

The 26-year-old, a biomedical engineer alumnus from Simon Fraser University, wanted to make a difference after seeing first-hand the impact of the opioid crisis in B.C. 

“It was being front and centre in Vancouver with seeing, unfortunately, thousands of people a year in B.C. die from drug poisoning,” he tells Glacier Media during an interview. “Then [my] personal experience with people who've been living with addiction and substance use disorder.”

The opioid crisis has claimed 814 lives this year, according to the most recent data from the BC Coroners Service. Almost 12,000 deaths have been attributed to illegal toxic drugs in British Columbia since the province declared a public health emergency in April 2016.

“I think this is just another tool in the tool belt," McGovern said of ODEN.

When the individual uses substances, the device will determine when those vital signs go out of the ’normal’ range and are ‘indicative’ of an overdose; if this happens, the device will set off an alarm. If the user does not turn off the alarm, it will alert emergency services and an emergency contact.

The device does not need to have Wi-Fi or a cellphone to work. 

“We have focused specifically on people who don't have access to cellphones or other technology, as well as people who don't use other harm reduction services for whatever reason,” McGovern says. 

For a lot of people, having a cellphone or a data plan is a barrier, he adds.

McGovern is now working exculsively with B.C.-based LifeGuard Digital Health. The goal is to have the device, now in its final phase of testing with the help of LifeGuard, available by early 2025. (McGovern is now LifeGuard's director of technology development.)

"The acquisition has been a beneficial addition to our development team as we create new solutions that not only help people suffering from substance use disorder but expand to help the aging population as well,” says Hardy.

McGovern credits SFU’s entrepreneurial program, which he says has given him the ability to pursue this project. 

"SFU has been extremely important in helping us get this off the ground and, and getting us access to research funding and support,” he says. “LifeGuard was a real game changer for us [so] we have access to a company that really has the same values as us and puts the same emphasis on saving lives.”