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Original research
Time-to-scene for opioid overdoses: are unmanned aerial drones faster than traditional first responders in an urban environment?
  1. Connor Andrew Tukel1,
  2. Matthew Ryan Tukel2,
  3. Robert Jacob Weinbaum3,
  4. Valerie H Mika4,
  5. Phillip D Levy4
  1. 1 Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA
  2. 2 Medical Education, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan, USA
  3. 3 Physics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  4. 4 Emergency Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan, USA
  1. Correspondence to Connor Andrew Tukel, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029, USA; connor.tukel{at}


Introduction Opioid overdoses claim tens of thousands of lives every year. Many of these deaths might be prevented if overdose-reversal medications such as naloxone are administered in a timely manner. Drones may help overcome barriers to timely arrival on scene for opioid overdoses. This study analyses the time required for a drone carrying naloxone to traverse various distances, simulating the response time for a drone to the scene of an opioid overdose. For comparison, we used the time required for ambulances to traverse similar distances while responding to the scene of actual or suspected opioid overdoses.

Methods Fifty flight trials, using a modified Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) ‘Inspire 2’ drone, were conducted across seven distances, and the travel time for the drone was then compared with historical response time data from 200 actual or suspected opioid overdose cases that occurred within Detroit, Michigan.

Results We determined with 95% certainty that drone arrival times were discernibly quicker than ambulance arrival times at all distances where sufficient data were available to perform statistical comparisons including 0.5 km, 1.0 km, 1.5 km, 2.0 km and 3.0 km.

Conclusion We have shown that a drone is capable of travelling several ranges of straight-line (ie, ‘as the crow flies’) distance faster than an ambulance. Further exploration into the use of drones to deliver life-saving therapies in urban and rural settings is warranted. Head-to-head prospective trials that consider the practical challenges of medical drone delivery are needed to better understand the viability of incorporating this technology into existing emergency response infrastructure.

  • delivery
  • drone
  • opioid overdose
  • emergency medicine
  • accessible

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  • Contributors CAT and MRT devised and planned the study, as well as conducted the flight trials, and coauthored the manuscript; they are joint first authors of this paper and are responsible for its overall content. RJW was responsible for the statistical analyses shown in this study; he devised methods for comparing our reference and collected data sets, generated relevant charts and figures, as well as authored the mathematical portion of the methods section. PDL provided clinical mentorship, helped gain access to the reference data set, ensured proper, objective execution of tests, and assisted in the editing and redrafting of the final manuscript. VHM offered administrative guidance, ensured adherence to ethical and regulatory protocols, helped devise analytical techniques and also assisted in the editing and redrafting of the final manuscript.

  • Funding This study was funded by a grant provided through Wayne State University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Detroit Medical First Responder (MFR) data were obtained from the Detroit East Medical Control Authority. Inquiries related to this data sent may be forwarded to Drone data were collected by our research team and may be obtained via request.