In his more than 30-year-long career as an electrician and telecommunications professional, John King has had many opportunities to create solutions for his clients. But he never expected he’d have the chance to save people’s lives and help stop substance abuse.

King and his wife own A Plus Communications Inc. in Andover, Massachusetts, and last year one of their longtime clients, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, approached them about a unique problem. The organization was seeing an increase in the number of opioid drug overdoses, usually in the center’s restrooms, and the staff needed a way to locate these individuals before it was too late.

“They needed to be able to find and detect somebody who’s overdosed to get them medical attention right away, rather than having to wait until security knocks on the door, and if they don’t respond, go in,” King explains. “They wanted something automatic.”

Doing his research and doing one better

King started researching the issue of opioid overdoses and what other similar organizations were doing about the problem. He looked at occupancy sensors for the lights, but the devices weren’t as adjustable as he needed. He found that some organizations were putting blue lights in bathrooms so that drug users couldn’t see their veins, but also learned that users were getting around that system by marking their veins with pens beforehand.

“I was just trying to find somebody that’s already doing it, but I couldn’t find anybody,” he says. “So, I just had to experiment with a bunch of different things.”

After a few months, King created a bathroom monitoring system that detects motion, and sounds an alarm after two minutes if there’s none. It features a programmable timer, so the system can be adjusted as needed.

“I ended up doing the control work, and I just came up with the circuit,” King says. “It senses motion all the time. When somebody stops moving, it realizes there’s no movement, and the timer is activated. It’s a very simple setup.”

A kingly idea becomes reality

The alarm was installed in March 2017 in the center’s single-use bathrooms, and so far, it has made a big impact. About 40 people have been saved from drug overdoses since its installation, according to Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program officials.

“To confront the opioid crisis, we have tried to step out of the box to come up with innovative solutions, and our alarm system is one way we’ve done that,” says Barbara Donahue, BHCHP’s director of facilities and security. “It allows us to reach a patient overdosing before there is permanent damage or death. It allows us to save lives.”

King says it feels good to have created something that saves people’s lives, but he’s quick to give credit to BHCHP medical and security staff.

“When I’m in the building, people will come up to me and they’re like, ‘Hey, John, you saved more lives this week.’ I’m thinking, ‘I didn’t save them. I helped [the staff] to save them,’” he says. “But, they don’t look at it that way. They figure if they didn’t have this system, they would’ve lost those people. It’s very difficult for the nurses and doctors when they find somebody and don’t bring them back.”

Every little bit of help helps

In Massachusetts, the number of drug overdose deaths increased by 28.4 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, opioids are a major contributor in drug overdose deaths and were involved in more than 42,000 deaths in 2016. Deaths from opioid overdose have increased fivefold from 1999 to 2016.

Since word has gotten out about the bathroom monitoring system, King says he’s gotten calls from other health care facilities and homeless help programs in Massachusetts and outside the state asking about the alarm.

The product doesn’t have an official name yet, but he says he’s working on creating some prototypes and streamlining the product’s creation to bring the price down. He’s also developing installation instructions so that the alarm, which currently is just for single-use bathrooms, is more widely accessible—and can potentially save more lives.

“The system is working great,” King says. “It’s just going to take off from there. When people who need a service like this find out about it, it makes it easier for them to get medical attention to people who overdose.”