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£5 million fund to tackle fatal drug deaths across the UK

  • Projects will look at how AI and other innovative technologies can detect overdoses to alert healthcare professionals, family and local communities to provide emergency lifesaving support to people who use drugs
  • Technology to support those in need and contribute towards Prime Minister’s priority to cut waiting lists

People at risk of drug deaths could be saved by overdose detecting artificial intelligence or antidote dispensing drones after the government awarded a share of £5 million to projects aimed at tackling fatal overdoses.

As part of the Reducing Drug Deaths Innovation Challenge which aims to reduce drug related deaths across the UK, Office for Life Sciences is investing in 12 promising projects to develop technologies aimed at improving detection, response, or intervention in potential drug related deaths.

It supports the Addiction Mission, one of the government’s healthcare missions targeting the biggest healthcare challenges, including through funding innovative research into improved treatments and life-saving technologies to accelerate their development and rollout.

Building on the Vaccine Taskforce model which led to one of the most successful vaccine roll outs in the world and ensured millions got a COVID-19 jab, the government will continue to harness world-leading research expertise, remove unnecessary bureaucracy, strengthen partnerships and support the new healthcare challenges.

More widely, funding will help the Prime Minister’s objective to improve urgent and emergency care and increase the resources available to healthcare professionals to treat drug overdoses.

Minister of State for Health Will Quince said:

Drug use has a devastating impact on people’s health, their families and their livelihoods and every year over 4000 people in the UK die from an avoidable drug overdose.

We want to stop people taking these substances and support them to recover from their addictions, while preventing those most at risk from dying from overdoses.

This fund forms part of our healthcare mission programme as we take a Vaccine Taskforce style approach to some of the biggest challenges facing our society today, backed by over £200 million.

This challenge is also being delivered in partnership with the Scottish Government as part of their National Mission on Drugs.

The winning projects will operate across all four nations of the UK and range from AI technologies to detect overdoses, to emergency systems using drone technology to deliver antidotes, and wearable technologies such as smart watches or breathing monitors to detect overdoses and alert healthcare professionals, family, or members of the community to the need to intervene.

Eleven projects have been awarded up to £100,000 each to launch four-month feasibility studies to develop prototypes, with one additional project securing up to £500,000 for a year-long demonstration study to collect real world evidence with residents of homeless accommodation. The studies will begin in September. Any of the feasibility studies that show promising results will be able to apply for up to £500,000 grants to carry out follow on 12-month demonstration projects starting in May 2024 to evaluate and collate real world evidence of their technology with people from population groups most at risk of overdose.

This funding supports wider government initiatives to tackle drug misuse in society. The UK’s Drugs Strategy, published in December 2021, has a key objective to prevent 1000 drug deaths in England by 2025. This aligns with work within and across the 4 nations of the UK, to improve systems of support and reduce drug related deaths. The Addiction Mission, as part of this strategy, is aiming to enhance the UK-wide research environment and incentivise the development of innovative and effective new treatments, technologies, and approaches to support recovery, and reduce the harm and deaths addiction can cause.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientific Advisor for Health, Scottish Government said:

It is truly inspiring to see some of the innovative solutions that are being supported through the Reducing Drug Deaths Innovation Competition and the partnership between the Chief Scientist’s Office in Scottish Government and the UK Government’s Office for Life Sciences.

Tackling drug related deaths is a huge priority for the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland, and our commitment to tackling these issues through targeted research, innovation and support can be seen in recent figures, showing a reduction in drug-related deaths in Scotland, the lowest annual total since 2017.

Utilising the expertise in Scotland and across the rest of the UK, we can continue to deliver results in harm reduction, developing truly impactful innovations and driving prevention initiatives, having a hugely positive impact both across the UK and globally.

Science, Innovation and Technology Minister, George Freeman, said:

Every single death from drug misuse is a tragedy, which has an awful impact on that person’s loved ones and community – and thousands every year are avoidable with better detection and faster intervention.

The UK is already a world leader in much of the work this £5 million Challenge will support – from our £94 billion life science sector through to our AI industry which supports 50,000 jobs, backed by our record £20 billion for R&D.

Now it is vital we use our world leading position to prevent overdoses and save lives. This runs to the core of what our Science Superpower ambition is all about: tackling some of the biggest problems facing society so we can all live healthier, happier, safer lives.


This challenge is being run by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office, who have invested £500,000 of the funding, in partnership with the Office for Life Sciences who have invested the remaining £4.5 million of the funding. NHS Fife will be leading on the programme management for this innovation challenge.

The competition has been designed in close consultation with the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive to increase the potential for uptake and use of these life-saving innovations in all parts of the UK. All UK nations are represented as either applicants or collaborators who are leading the successfully funded projects.

The central objective of this competition is to develop innovative technologies that help to reduce drug related deaths and harm across the whole of the UK and help people who use drugs and their support networks to work together to save lives.  This will support in delivering on the UK’s Drug Strategy, From Harm to Hope, and the Scottish Government’s National Mission on Drugs. In January 2021, the Scottish Government announced a National Mission on Drugs. The aim of the National Mission is to reduce drug deaths and improve the lives of those impacted by drugs in a programme of work supported by the Drug Deaths Taskforce and National Mission on Drugs plan. The demand signalling work of the CSO Innovation Team based upon the Care and Wellbeing Programme, identified tackling drugs related deaths as a key priority area for innovation in NHS Scotland.

More detail on the winning projects and selection process:

  • Saving SAM: System for Alert and Monitoring of Potential Overdoses – eMoodie in partnership with the University of Edinburgh and NHS Scotland Health Innovation South East Scotland (HISES). This project will design and develop “Saving SAM”: an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled drug overdose monitoring system to enable both self and responder digital alerts.
  • ‘DoseCare: Development and Evaluation of a Wearable-Integrated, AI-Powered Overdose Detection and Response System’ – Manchester Metropolitan University in partnership with Queen’s University of Belfast, Drug and Alcohol Research Network (Northern Ireland) and the Salvation Army. This project aims to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionise overdose detection and prevention mechanisms in healthcare. By focusing on two distinct user groups with varying levels of risk awareness, they intend to develop tailored solutions that significantly improve patient outcomes and enhance overall care delivery utilising wearable technologies and smart phone applications.
  • Ultra-portable fast-dispersal buccal naloxone for constant carriage: testing feasibility and acceptability – King’s College London in partnership with Catalent, Accord Health, Scottish Drug Forum, Scottish Families affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD), DrugFAM and South London Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). Naloxone is an opioid overdose antidote however existing naloxone products are bulky and have very low carriage rates. This feasibility project will examine a proposed ultra-portable fast-dispersal naloxone tablet suitable for constant carriage, so that it is always present with an individual who is present at an overdose emergency.
  • LifeSavr: Unobtrusive Wearable Device to Detect Overdose – NOMW Health Limited in partnership with the University of Southampton and NHS Scotland West of Scotland Innovation Hub. The study will focus on assessing the technical, economic, and operational aspects of the ‘LifeSavr’ device, which uses advanced sensor technology to provide real-time detection of opioid overdoses.
  • Drug Overdose Detection and Response using Care & Respond with CHAI999 – led by Science & Engineering Applications Ltd in partnership with Welsh and Scottish Ambulance Services. This project aims to explore the functionality of digital tools that can empower friends and family to support drug users and respond in the event of an overdose and link with emergency services to facilitate a coordinated response.
  • Vivisco Smart Revive Beacon for Opiate Overdose – Vivisco in partnership with the Kent Surrey Sussex AHSN, Forward Trust, Kent County Council and the Southeast Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. Vivisco will work with organisations in Kent to co-design and prototype an automatic alert system to contact emergency services with GPS location and type of antidote used that is triggered when a naloxone package is opened.
  • Improving Harm Reduction Strategies for Illicit Drug Use: A Handheld Device for self-monitoring Benzodiazepine use – ZiO Health Ltd working with Health Innovation South East Scotland (HISES). ZiO-Health’s feasibility project is focused on improving harm reduction strategies for illicit drug use by developing a handheld therapeutic drug monitoring (TDM) device to notify users and responders of potential overdose.
  • In Time Naloxone – DroneMatLab Limited  (King’s College London spinout) in partnership with the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, HeroTech8, Midlands Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, University of Southampton and Wessex Academic Health Science Network. The project aims to develop an effective emergency response for the distribution of naloxone (an opioid overdose antidote), by drone to prevent opioid overdoses becoming fatal.
  • RescuePatch: A controlled-release combination patch for naloxone and flumazenil delivery – MESOX LTD in partnership with Health Innovation Southeast Scotland (HISES), Aston University, the National Physical Laboratory and On Target Pharma. This project will investigate a novel transdermal patch combination therapy called RescuePatch. The patch will contain a reservoir of antidotes to both opioid and benzodiazepine overdoses ad is designed to be applied by a non-professional, which is expected to improve responder pathways and increase the chance of patient survival.
  • Co-Evaluation Study of Overdose Detection and Response Wristband Technology – Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Brave, Keele University, Two Saints Housing Association and the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network. To combat the growing problem of self-administrating drug users from overdosing, a multi-organisation collaborative led by MPFT propose to develop a wearable piece of technology that detects absence in user movements and alerts the individual or surrounding people to need for intervention.
  • A soft skin-interfacing strain sensor for overdose detection and prevention (ASSESSOR) – University of Glasgow in partnership with NHS Scotland West of Scotland Innovation Hub. The aim of this project is to develop a low-cost skin-interfacing sensor that can be seamlessly attached to the human body for long-term and remote monitoring of mechanical and physiological signs of overdose without affecting the routine daily activities of the user.
  • RESCU2 – Clinical Validation of Virtual Safe Drug Consumption Technology – PneumoWave (formerly Altair Medical Ltd) in partnership with the University of Dundee and King’s College London, alongside Third Sector partners including Humankind, Thames Reach, and Hillcrest Futures. PneumoWave ALERT is a remote monitoring platform designed to make opioid usage safer. A discrete, chest-worn biosensor paired to a mobile device allows detection of the onset of life-threatening respiratory depression during an overdose event which then alerts nearby carriers of naloxone, and emergency medical services. This project will recruit 200 residents of homeless accommodation to participate in a study with aims of reducing drug deaths and gaining usability feedback from patients and care teams.

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