Real-time mobile detection of drug use with wearable biosensors: a pilot study

J Med Toxicol. 2015 Mar;11(1):73-9. doi: 10.1007/s13181-014-0439-7.


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.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Biosensing Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Body Temperature / drug effects
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine / toxicity
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / adverse effects
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / instrumentation*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pilot Projects
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / physiopathology
  • Substance Abuse Detection / adverse effects
  • Substance Abuse Detection / instrumentation*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Wrist


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Cocaine