Boston Hosts Hack-a-Thon To Address Opioid Crisis

By Kelly Burch 09/14/16

General Electric offered $5,000 to five winning teams to bring their ideas for combating the opioid crisis to life.

Boston Hosts Hack-a-Thon To Address Opioid Crisis

Over the weekend, computer coders, architects, addiction treatment professionals, and active and recovering drug users pitched ideas at Boston's first opioid hack-a-thon, brought together by General Electric and Massachusetts General Hospital, to come up with innovative approaches to handling the opioid problem in Massachusetts.

Ideas included a floating medical center where people could use drugs under medical supervision, a service that provides rides to treatment for rural residents, and technology that would alert business owners if someone has overdosed in their bathrooms. 

By the end of the weekend, five winners were awarded $1,000 to work toward their project. 

The first winner was a program to battle addiction on the home front. The project would add blinking lights or other visible notification to prescription pill bottles once the prescribed time of use is up. The minds behind the project hope that this would keep prescription opioids from lying around a house, easy targets for anyone looking for a quick high.

Another winner, the Ally project, aimed to tackle stigma while saving lives. The project provides naloxone in a recognizable, wearable pouch that is designed to decrease stigma around addiction. 

"The project is about more than just having the medication there if someone goes into an overdose,” Beth Mosher, who teaches industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design, told WBUR Boston Public Radio. "It’s also to help try to counteract the stigma and the shame.”

MATmobile, a van focused on medication-assisted treatment, was another winner. The van would travel to heroin hotspots in Boston, distributing clean needles, counseling and a two-day supply of Suboxone to Boston’s most vulnerable drug users.

"I’ve been sleeping in the doorway of 7-Eleven for a few months now. This morning I woke up dopesick. Four to six people like me will die of unintentional overdoses in Massachusetts today," said hack-a-thon participant Aubri Esters, who presented the MATmobile idea.

A recovery community center and a text messaging service that connects people to treatment also won the $1,000 prize. 

Each of the five winning teams will be able to work on their project over the next 90 days, with guidance from Mass General and GE. The team that makes the most progress will win an additional $10,000 for their project. 

The hack-a-thon was one of the first efforts by GE to become more involved with the city where it is now based. When the company committed to moving all headquarters to Boston by 2018, it made a five-year, $50 million philanthropic commitment to the Boston community. Fifteen million dollars of that money is slated to be spent on healthcare initiatives (like the hack-a-thon), particularly around addiction and behavioral health. 

The hack-a-thon was the perfect way to kickstart that, said Dr. David Barash, executive director of Global Health Programs at GE Foundation.

“Open source innovation is an efficient way to focus a lot of brain power and creative thinking around very difficult challenges,” said Barash in a statement. “The key to success is not just gathering innovative ideas, but putting the right resources around them to ensure that the best ideas are implemented effectively.”

That goal was accomplished this weekend, Barash told WBUR. "To me this weekend was home run for the people we’re trying to help, for the community we’re trying to help and I think it really did make a statement that GE is committed to the community,” he said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.