UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications


Wearable Biosensors to Detect Physiologic Change During Opioid Use

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine, Division of Medical Toxicology; Department of Neurology; Department of Quantitative Health Sciences; School of Medicine; Senior Scholars Program

Publication Date


Document Type



Biomedical Devices and Instrumentation | Emergency Medicine | Medical Toxicology


INTRODUCTION: Opioid analgesic use is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the US, yet effective treatment programs have a limited ability to detect relapse. The utility of current drug detection methods is often restricted due to their retrospective and subjective nature. Wearable biosensors have the potential to improve detection of relapse by providing objective, real time physiologic data on opioid use that can be used by treating clinicians to augment behavioral interventions.

METHODS: Thirty emergency department (ED) patients who were prescribed intravenous opioid medication for acute pain were recruited to wear a wristband biosensor. The biosensor measured electrodermal activity, skin temperature and locomotion data, which was recorded 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; B) between subjects, based on hand dominance, gender, and opioid use history.

RESULTS: Within subjects, a significant decrease in locomotion and increase in skin temperature were consistently detected by the biosensors after opioid administration. A significant change in electrodermal activity was not consistently detected. Between subjects, biometric changes varied with level of opioid use history (heavy vs. nonheavy users), but did not vary with gender or type of opioid. Specifically, heavy users demonstrated a greater decrease in short amplitude movements (i.e. fidgeting movements) compared to non-heavy users.

CONCLUSION: A wearable biosensor showed a consistent physiologic pattern after ED opioid administration and differences between patterns of heavy and non-heavy opioid users were noted. Potential applications of biosensors to drug addiction treatment and pain management should be studied further.


UMCCTS funding, Biometrics, Biosensors, Opioids, Signal Processing, Wearables

DOI of Published Version



J Med Toxicol. 2016 Sep;12(3):255-62. doi: 10.1007/s13181-016-0557-5. Epub 2016 Jun 22. Link to article on publisher's site


Kelley Wittbold participated in this study as a medical student in the Senior Scholars research program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of medical toxicology : official journal of the American College of Medical Toxicology

PubMed ID