| Health & Wellbeing
Experimental app might spot drug overdoses in time to help
This image from video provided by the University of
Washington in January 2019 shows a demonstration of the
smartphone app developed by Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, Shyamnath
Gollakota and Jacob E. Sunshine that uses sound waves to measure
breathing. In first-step testing reported Wednesday, Jan. 9 the
device detected early breathing problems in some people who’d
just injected illegal drugs. (Mark Stone/University of
Washington via AP)
Washington (AP) - Too often people
die of an opioid overdose because no one’s around to notice
they’re in trouble. Now scientists are creating a smartphone app
that beams sound waves to measure breathing - and summon help if
The app is
still experimental. But in a novel test, the “Second Chance” app
detected early signs of overdose in the critical minutes after
people injected heroin or other illegal drugs, researchers
question is whether most drug users would pull out their phone
and switch on an app before shooting up. The University of
Washington research team contends it could offer a much-needed
tool for people who haven’t yet found addiction treatment.
not trying to kill themselves - they’re addicted to these drugs.
They have an incentive to be safe,” said Shyamnath Gollakota, an
engineering and computer science associate professor whose lab
turns regular cellphones into temporary sonar devices.
emergency room physician who regularly cares for overdose
patients wonders how many people really would try such a device.
“This is an
innovative way to attack the problem,” said Dr. Zachary Dezman
of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who wasn’t
involved in the research.
don’t know if many folks who use substances are going to have
the forethought to prepare,” he added.
47,000 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdoses in 2017. The
drugs suppress breathing but a medicine called naloxone often
can save victims - if it reaches them in time. Usually, that
means someone has to witness the collapse. Dr. Jacob Sunshine, a
University of Washington anesthesiologist, notes that people
have died with a relative in the next room unaware they were in
research team settled on cellphones as potential overdose
monitors because just about everyone owns one. They designed an
app that measures how someone’s chest rises and falls to see if
they’re slipping into the slow, shallow breaths of an overdose
or stop breathing completely.
software converts the phone’s built-in speaker and microphone to
send out inaudible sound waves and record how they bounce back.
Analyzing the signals shows specific breathing patterns.
work inside a pocket, and people would have to stay within 3
feet. The researchers are in the process of making the app
capable of dialing for help if a possible overdose is detected.
the experimental gadget to the test at North America’s first
supervised injection site in Vancouver, British Columbia, where
people are allowed to bring in illegal drugs and inject
themselves under medical supervision in case of overdose. Study
participants agreed to have doctoral student Rajalakshmi
Nandakumar place the app-running cellphone nearby during their
regularly monitored visit.
software correctly identified breathing problems that could
signal an overdose - seven or fewer breaths a minute, or pauses
in breathing - 90 percent of the time, the researchers found.
Most were near-misses; two of the 94 study participants had to
bigger test, the researchers next turned to people who don’t
abuse drugs but were about to receive anesthesia for elective
surgery. Rendering someone unconscious for an operation mimics
how an overdose shuts down breathing.
30 seconds of slowed or absent breathing as those patients went
under, the app correctly predicted 19 of 20 simulated overdoses,
the researchers reported. The one missed case was a patient
breathing slightly faster than the app’s cutoff.
findings were reported in the journal Science Translational
Medicine. The researchers have patented the invention and
plan to seek Food and Drug Administration approval.
Low carb? Low fat? What the latest dieting studies tell us
June 9, 2014 file photo shows a dish of steak and cheese pasta in
Concord, N.H. Two major studies in 2018 provided more fuel for the
debate around carbs and fats, yet failed to offer a resolution to the
polarizing matter of the best way to lose weight. (AP Photo/Matthew
New York (AP) -
Bacon and black coffee for breakfast, or oatmeal and bananas?
If you’re planning to try to lose weight in 2019,
you’re sure to find a fierce debate online and among friends and family
about how best to do it. It seems like everyone has an opinion, and new
fads emerge every year.
Two major studies last year provided more fuel for a
particularly polarizing topic - the role carbs play in making us fat.
The studies gave scientists some clues, but, like other nutrition
studies, they can’t say which diet - if any - is best for everyone.
That’s not going to satisfy people who want
black-and-white answers, but nutrition research is extremely difficult
and even the most respected studies come with big caveats. People are so
different that it’s all but impossible to conduct studies that show what
really works over long periods of time.
Before embarking on a weight loss plan for the new
year, here’s a look at some of what was learned last year.
It’s no longer called the Atkins Diet, but the
low-carb school of dieting has been enjoying a comeback. The idea is
that the refined carbohydrates in foods like white bread are quickly
converted into sugar in our bodies, leading to energy swings and hunger.
By cutting carbs, the claim is that weight loss will
be easier because your body will instead burn fat for fuel while feeling
less hungry. A recent study seems to offer more support for low-carb
proponents. But, like many studies, it tried to understand just one
sliver of how the body works.
The study, co-led by an author of books promoting
low-carb diets, looked at whether varying carb levels might affect how
the body uses energy. Among 164 participants, it found those on low-carb
diets burned more total calories than those on high-carb diets.
The study did not say people lost more weight on a
low-carb diet - and didn’t try to measure that. Meals and snacks were
tightly controlled and continually adjusted so everyone’s weights stayed
David Ludwig, a lead author of the paper and
researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, said it suggests limiting
carbs could make it easier for people to keep weight off once they’ve
lost it. He said the approach might work best for those with diabetes or
Ludwig noted the study wasn’t intended to test
long-term health effects or real-world scenarios where people make their
own food. The findings also need to be replicated to be validated, he
Caroline Apovian of Boston University’s School of
Medicine said the findings are interesting fodder for the scientific
community, but that they shouldn’t be taken as advice for the average
person looking to lose weight.
Do I avoid fat to be skinny?
For years people were advised to curb fats, which are
found in foods including meat, nuts, eggs, butter and oil. Cutting fat
was seen as a way to control weight, since a gram of fat has twice as
many calories than the same amount of carbs or protein.
Many say the advice had the opposite effect by
inadvertently giving us license to gobble up fat-free cookies, cakes and
other foods that were instead full of the refined carbs and sugars now
blamed for our wider waistlines.
Nutrition experts gradually moved away from blanket
recommendations to limit fats for weight loss. Fats are necessary for
absorbing important nutrients and can help us feel full. That doesn’t
mean you have to subsist on steak drizzled in butter to be healthy.
Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of international health at
Johns Hopkins, said the lessons learned from the anti-fat fad should be
applied to the anti-carb fad: don’t oversimplify advice.
“There’s a constant look for an easy way out,” Lee
So which is better?
Another big study this past year found low-carb diets
and low-fat diets were about equally as effective for weight loss.
Results varied by individual, but after a year, people in both groups
shed an average of 12 to 13 pounds.
The author noted the findings don’t contradict
Ludwig’s low-carb study. Instead, they suggest there may be some
flexibility in the ways we can lose weight. Participants in both groups
were encouraged to focus on minimally processed foods like produce and
meat prepared at home. Everyone was advised to limit added sugar and
“If you got that foundation right, for many, that
would be an enormous change,” said Christopher Gardner of Stanford
University and one of the study’s authors.
Limiting processed foods could improve most diets by
cutting down overall calories, while still leaving wiggle room for
people’s preferences. That’s important, because for a diet to be
effective, a person has to be able to stick to it. A breakfast of fruit
and oatmeal may be filling for one person, but leave another hungry soon
Gardner notes the study had its limitations, too.
Participants’ diets weren’t controlled. People were instead instructed
on how to achieve eating a low-carb or low-fat in regular meetings with
dietitians, which may have provided a support network most dieters don’t
So, what works?
In the short term you can probably lose weight by
eating only raw foods, or going vegan, or cutting out gluten, or
following another diet plan that catches your eye. But what will work
for you over the long term is a different question.
Zhaoping Li, director of clinical nutrition division
at the University of California, Los Angeles, says there is no single
set of guidelines that help everyone lose weight and keep it off. It’s
why diets often fail - they don’t factor into account the many factors
that drive us to eat what we do.
To help people lose weight, Li examines her patients’
eating and physical activity routines to identify improvements people
will be able to live with.
“What sticks is what matters,” Li said.
US urges doctors to write more
Rx for overdose antidote
Tuesday, July 3, 2018 file photo, a Narcan nasal device which delivers
naloxone lies on a counter as a health educator gives instructions on how to
administer it in the Brooklyn borough of New York. On Wednesday, Dec. 19,
2018, the U.S. government told doctors to consider prescribing the overdose
antidote naloxone to many more patients who take opioid painkillers. (AP
Carla K. Johnson
The U.S. government told doctors Wednesday to consider
prescribing medications that reverse overdoses to many more patients who
take opioid painkillers in a move that could add more than $1 billion in
health care costs.
Assistant Secretary for
Health Brett Giroir, a doctor appointed by President Donald Trump, announced
the guidance, saying it’s important for doctors to discuss overdose dangers
such as Narcan along with opioids forces a conversation that will lead to “a
more informed decision by the patient,” he said.
The action comes a day
after a close vote from a Food and Drug Administration expert panel
endorsing the idea of rewriting opioid drug labels to include a naloxone
recommendation for many or all patients. An FDA document said such a move
could add more than $1 billion in health care costs.
“Even at a billion, it
would be an investment that is well worth it,” Giroir said.
More than 47,600
Americans died of opioid overdoses last year, a toll that has been rising
for two decades. The street drug fentanyl is the top killer today, but
prescription painkillers are still a problem, contributing to nearly 15,000
overdose deaths last year.
Naloxone comes in a
nasal spray, an injection and an automatic injector. The Narcan nasal spray
costs about $125 for a two-dose kit, although government programs can get it
for less. The automatic injector can cost as much as $4,000 per kit,
although its maker recently authorized a cheaper generic version.
prescribing the antidote to pain patients does not address the growing share
of fatal overdoses caused by illicit opioids, and could cause shortages for
programs that hand out the kits to street drug users.
It “will have the
unintended consequence of derailing efforts to provide naloxone to the very
effective community programs we know are successful in saving lives,” said
Dr. Raeford E. Brown Jr., who heads an expert panel advising the FDA.
The new guidance tells
doctors to consider prescribing the antidote to patients on high doses of
opioids, heavy drinkers, people with sleep apnea and other breathing
problems, people taking benzodiazepines such as Xanax and people with
addiction or mental health problems.
It expands upon a
similar recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In April, U.S. Surgeon
General Jerome Adams issued the office’s first national public health
advisory in 13 years, calling on more Americans to start carrying naloxone
and urging more federal money to be dedicated to broadening access.
Most states allow
people to get naloxone from a pharmacy or community program under a
statewide prescription and some states require doctors to also prescribe
naloxone to patients on high doses of opioids.
The FDA is working
toward an over-the-counter version of naloxone.
Brown said the
government should use its emergency authority to buy and distribute large
quantities of naloxone and immediately make it available over the counter.
Trump directed the health agency to declare the opioid crisis a public
health emergency last year.
“That’s the difference
between declaring a public health emergency and actually acting as if
there’s a public health emergency,” Brown said.