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Taking harm reduction virtual

Overdose Response Network


Increasingly opioids are becoming a major public health issue. In Ontario, someone dies from an opioid overdose every 10 hours. In addition to the human toll, opioid use leads to more emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

There are better ways to manage drug use and prevent overdoses in communities. Currently, there are a number of different harm reduction strategies to minimize risk, including the establishment of safe injection sites and distribution of naloxone rescue kits. While, these programs are helpful to those who overdose in the presence of others; there is no viable option for the 80% of people who report using alone. If we want to manage risk and prevent overdoses, we need to work with people who use opioids and develop supports that fit their context.

Opioid Crisis in Ontario - click on image to enlarge - Courtesy of OpenLab

The Overdose Response Network is a human-powered network supported by a mobile smartphone app that aims to reduce accidental opioid-related overdose deaths among people who use drugs alone. This project builds on and enhances naturally-occurring networks of responders that have emerged out of necessity across the city.

As the biggest healthcare epidemic since the AIDS crisis of the 1990s, the opioid crisis demands our attention and the immediate implementation of solutions.

The Mobile Smartphone App

This provides a platform that connects people at risk of overdosing with a community of trained responders. The app is supported by a timer that once activated, sends a broadcast message to nearby volunteer responders, a friend/family member, and/or 911 alerting them of a nearby overdose. 

Mobile App in collaboration with OpenLab - click to enlarge

The Network

In the event of an overdose, app users have the choice of alerting a friend or a family member, 911, and/or a member of a community of trained responders (otherwise known as the Overdose Response Network).  This community is to consist of volunteer responders who are trained in reversing overdoses and who are vetted into the network and supported by a local harm reduction service provider.

Our prototype is now ready for testing and we are seeking out partnerships within the harm reduction community to bring development of the app one more step closer to launch.

Once finalized, this tool will be shared widely so others working in this space can adapt this life-saving solution to serve their community.