The Lifeguard App has launched in the Interior Health region to help prevent overdoses while ensuring those using drugs alone have the proper resources.
The province's overdose death toll is rising again after going down last year and with COVID-19 measures in place, more people are doing drugs alone while the drug supply has become even more toxic as a result of border closures.
The Lifeguard App is "one tool in the tool box" when it comes to combatting the overdose crisis according to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy.
“The launch of this new resource couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Darcy. “As we face down two public health emergencies – the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic – we must ensure that people who use drugs have the resources they need, when and where they need them."
"Knowing that the majority of people who use drugs use alone in shelters, hotels, or at home, in addition to the challenges of physical distancing, the Lifeguard App is a new and innovative approach that can directly link people to emergency responders if an overdose does occur.”
The idea for the app came from Lifeguard Health CEO Jeff Hardy while he was recovering at an alcohol addiction in a treatment centre in 2017.
Hardy's close friend Evan died from fentanyl toxicity on May 29, 2017, which prompted him to work to find a solution to the drug crisis.
"He (Evan) was literally being taken out by the coroner, I just got this idea about using GPS on your phone and how that might work with bringing emergency responders directly to somebody who was alone," says Hardy.
After researching the possibilities and getting a team together, the app came to life.
So how does it work?
After downloading the app on iOS or Android, you follow the step by step process of the application. You can choose to enter your name or remain anonymous and you then enter your phone number and location.
When activated you can enter a location and the drug you're taking. After you confirm the location a timer will start counting down from 60 seconds. After 50 seconds the app will sound a loud alarm, if you do not click the button to stop the alarm, the sound grows louder. After 75 seconds, emergency responders are notified of a potential overdose.
"The application's information is very minimal that you put in," says Hardy. "It doesn't go anywhere but to emergency responders, it doesn't go to RCMP. It is anonymous and the only time anybody responds to you is if you've overdosed."
The Lifeguard App has been added to the Overdose Emergency Response Centre's list of essential health and social sector interventions in B.C.
The app had been piloted for nearly two years in the Vancouver Coastal Health region before being introduced into the public. It is now available in the Interior Health region as of Monday.
"We've come together as a province to fight COVID-19 and we need to continue to come together as a province until we turn the tide on this terrible crisis of overdose," says Darcy.
To learn more about the app, click here.