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Overdose-proof bathrooms help prevent opioid deaths in public restrooms

From coffee shops to libraries, people have overdosed and even died locked inside public restrooms amid the opioid crisis.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless in Boston, Massachusetts, is located in an area known as “Methadone Mile,” where drug users come for addiction treatment. Some have used drugs in the health care center’s bathroom and suffered overdoses.

Fortunately, no one died there, but in 2017, the center asked their electrician to come up with a system to prevent overdoses. And he did.

John King, an electrician based in Andover, Massachusetts, says at first, he had to speak to a doctor to understand what happens during an overdose.

“During an overdose, you’re not moving whatsoever. So, being an electrician, movement and motion, that’s where I came up with well, I’ll use some type of motion sensor and then when it stops monitoring motion,” King says. “That’s when I knew I had one of the key factors to make a system work.”

He devised a system now called Lifesaver Alert. Over the past few years, this technology has been installed in about 100 public bathrooms, hospitals, and clinics, from Chicago to Philadephia and Baltimore, among other places.

Watch on YouTube.

STAT addiction reporter Lev Facher says King calls his sensors “reverse motion detectors.”

“Essentially they don’t detect motion,” Facher says, “They detect the absence of motion. So, if someone’s in the restroom and the door has been locked behind them for two minutes and 45 seconds, and no motion has been detected, that’s when these alarms go off. And that’s when medical staff can come in, force the door open if necessary, and do the things that need to be done to revive someone from an overdose, which include administering Naloxone, the overdose reversal medication, sometimes rescue breathing techniques using supplementary oxygen.”

But Facher says King also refers to his system as “a time machine.”

“The problem here is most of the time, when you discover someone’s had an overdose in a public restroom, they’re already dead,” Facher says. “So the miracle of this technology essentially is that it can alert staff to overdoses in progress, allowing people to intervene and allowing them to save lives.”

King has already been working on a multi-stall bathroom system. He says he loves getting calls from facilities that let him know his system has helped save a life.

“After a system is installed, we’ll get a call every once in a while that we saved somebody,” King says. “And that’s very rewarding to hear that the system, it’s been installed for a short period of time and they’ve already saved people.”

The system also provides some support to workers, King says.

“It helps the staff in the building where the systems are working to be more relaxed,” he says. “They don’t always have to go over to the bathroom and check constantly.”

And if you’re concerned that you may be taking longer than two minutes and 45 seconds in the bathroom, don’t worry. The sensors pick up on any movement.


Adeline Sire produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Sire also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.