Tech community works on app to stop opioid overdose deaths

(KXAN)
(KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a drug epidemic continues to take lives, the Food and Drug Administration is looking to new, innovative ways to reverse the trend. They’ve launched the 2016 Naloxone App Competition, a contest they hope will spur developers to create technologies to combat the rising number of opioid overdoses.

The call-to-action is broad, but the FDA is looking for an app that can connect opioid users experiencing an overdose with someone nearby who has the life-saving drug Naloxone on them. Naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose by blocking opioid receptor sites. Through the app they hope someone overdosing in an apartment complex could connect with a neighbor or someone in the area who has the drug.

More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record, about 47,000. The majority involved an opioid, like a prescription painkiller or illicit drug like heroin. That year, the CDC says fewer people died from car accidents (33,736), and guns (33,599.)

It’s a problem Austin tech company Jackrabbit Mobile hopes to tackle.

“I think apps and mobile technology have an amazing ability to connect people, and if you leverage that right, you can have incredibly high impact in really positive ways,” said Kyle Zamcheck, Outcomes Director at Jackrabbit Mobile.

She believes the FDA’s call-to-action is a great way to mobilize the tech community to do their part in finding solutions.

“It gets people talking about this problem and about what’s going on in communities,” said Zamcheck. “How can we make these resources available and how can we do it on a really high-caliber, really high-impact platform and way.”

One app on the market right now, NARCAN Now, does tell a user which nearby pharmacy has the life-saving drug, and explains how to administer it, but the FDA hopes this competition will take the app a step further.

All code will be made open-source and publicly available. In October, teams and individual contestants will be invited to the FDA campus for a two-day code-a-thon, and the winner will ultimately be awarded $40,000.

“Often times when it’s not open-sourced it’s very difficult to innovate off of that,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, CEO of Jackrabbit Mobile. “Those are the opportunities for the tech community to show, ‘Hey, I really do care about making a difference in world, I really care about the lives around me,’ and using technology to help support that.”

Mark Kinzly with The Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative says it’s a nice idea, but he has concerns. “The apps are great, but if you don’t have access to the medication, what difference it make?”

While anyone can get Naloxone at pharmacies in Texas, Kinzly says the price has skyrocketed over the years.

“If you don’t have insurance these medications cost anywhere from $60 upwards of $4,000 to get the medication,” said Kinzly.

He says if not enough people have the medication, the app won’t be effective. Kinzly wants to see the government use its influence on pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices so more people can access the medication.

Kinzly also has doubts the app will be effective if a person is alone.

“If people that were overdosing could take care of themselves, then they would administer the medication that saves their lives. So if they’re not administering the medication that saves their lives, they’re certainly aren’t using an app.”

While he has doubts about the competition, Kinzly believes anytime you bring smart people together to tackle difficult problems it can lead to positive things in the long run. With the opioid epidemic, the nation needs all the help it can get.

“Texas is in the cross-hairs of what this epidemic is going to look like, if we don’t have things in place, a lot of Texans will die needlessly.”

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