Real-Time Mobile Detection of Drug Use with Wearable Biosensors: A Pilot Study

Stephanie Carreiro, David Smelson, Megan Ranney, Keith J. Horvath, R. W. Picard, Edwin D. Boudreaux, Rashelle Hayes, Edward W. Boyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


While reliable detection of illicit drug use is paramount to the field of addiction, current methods involving self-report and urine drug screens have substantial limitations that hinder their utility. Wearable biosensors may fill a void by providing valuable objective data regarding the timing and contexts of drug use. This is a preliminary observational study of four emergency department patients receiving parenteral opioids and one individual using cocaine in a natural environment. A portable biosensor was placed on the inner wrist of each subject, to continuously measure electrodermal activity (EDA), skin temperature, and acceleration. Data were continuously recorded for at least 5 min prior to drug administration, during administration, and for at least 30 min afterward. Overall trends in biophysiometric parameters were assessed. Injection of opioids and cocaine use were associated with rises in EDA. Cocaine injection was also associated with a decrease in skin temperature. Opioid tolerance appeared to be associated with a blunted physiologic response as measured by the biosensor. Laterality may be an important factor, as magnitude of response varied between dominant and nondominant wrists in a single patient with bilateral wrist measurements. Changes in EDA and skin temperature are temporally associated with intravenous administration of opioids and cocaine; the intensity of response, however, may vary depending on history and extent of prior use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-79
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medical Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors would like to acknowledge the generous financial support from the University of Massachusetts Department of Emergency Medicine and the National Institute of Health.

Funding Information:
This project was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health through Grant Number R01DA033769-01 and a grant from the University of Massachusetts Emergency Medicine Research Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, American College of Medical Toxicology.


  • Biosensor
  • Drug abuse
  • Drug testing
  • Electrodermal activity
  • MHealth


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