Naloxone App Contest Winner Aims To Equip Ride-Sharing Services With Overdose Antidote

By Victoria Kim 12/30/16

OD Help is able to connect opioid users with a crowd-sourced network of naloxone carriers.

Person calling an Uber.

In September, the Food and Drug Administration launched a competition in search of a mobile app that can connect a person in the midst of a drug overdose with someone nearby who can administer naloxone.

The winner of the Naloxone App Competition was announced this month and claimed the $40,000 cash prize. Team PwrdBy, a small start-up in Venice, California, beat out other entries with its app, OD Help, which CEO Jared Sheehan says was based on the idea that ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft would carry naloxone and use the app to cover a lot more ground and reach more people. 

Naloxone is a pure opioid antagonist that has the ability to reverse opioid overdose by reversing depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system caused by substances like heroin and opioid pain medication. Through new legislation spurred by the rising rate of opioid overdose across the U.S., access to the drug is now more common than ever among both emergency personnel and even laypeople.

In a recent interview with local Maryland TV news, Sheehan said there’s still a lot of work to be done before the app is made available to the public, like reaching out and coordinating with ride-sharing companies. “Is there a way if every Uber driver had a naloxone kit in the back of their car, that you could call someone and they’d be able to come over and administer naloxone?” asked Sheehan.

But linking up with ride-sharing apps is just one avenue that Team PwrdBy is exploring, Sheehan told The Fix. The company is also exploring more traditional distribution networks like the AED network, the automated external defibrillators network across schools. "Understanding how these types of programs are funded and distributed could be key to casting a wider net of naloxone to individuals in need," he said via email. 

The bottom line is to save as many lives as possible. "We are looking at a number of options in terms of how delivery of naloxone could be made more efficient," Sheehan added. "The goal is to decrease the time between overdose and administration of naloxone, so ride-sharing apps are just one way to approach the issue."

OD Help is able to connect opioid users with a crowd-sourced network of naloxone carriers. The app is equipped with some additional features that make it easy to personalize the app user’s experience, like having the option to only alert people in your support network. And naloxone carriers can disable alerts if they are not able to respond. 

An optional breathing monitor is another feature that may be helpful for people who use opioids alone. The wearable monitor is able to detect if the individual’s breathing rate is dangerously low, a sign of overdose, and will automatically alert a naloxone carrier nearby. The app also features information on how to correctly identify an overdose and how to administer naloxone.

Each member of Team PwrdBy, like so many others, realized they had a personal connection to the issue of opioid addiction. "For me, I lost a recreation league baseball coach to heroin," Sheehan told The Fix. 

"However, what solidified our resolve were the stories from our medical advisor, Dr. Omer, who is an emergency medicine doctor in the LA county hospital. His experience brought together these individual connections to a cohesive (and data-backed) narrative on why we need a better way to administer naloxone and what are major barriers to accomplish this goal."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr