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Responding to Opioid Overdose Emergencies through a Community App

With deaths due to opioid overdose continuing to reach record levels in the United States, a new technology-based intervention has the potential to help in emergency overdose situations. An international research collaboration led by Stephen Lankenau (Drexel University, Philadelphia) and David Schwartz (Bar-Ilan University, Israel) will be running a clinical field trial of ERC-NAX – an Emergency Response Community app to facilitate the immediate availability of life-saving naloxone. The National Institutes of Health (NH) recently awarded the grant to fund this research initiative through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The escalating opioid overdose epidemic is one of the most serious public health problems confronting the U.S. In 2014, a record 47,055 people died from a drug overdose in the U.S., which outnumbered deaths from motor vehicle crashes by approximately one and a half times. Death due to drug overdose is a significant and rising cause of mortality and morbidity in Philadelphia. In 2015, almost 700 drug overdose deaths attributed to opioids were reported in Philadelphia – twice as many as deaths from homicide. In response, health policy, legislation, and research funding are increasingly converging in support of the distribution of naloxone, an opioid antagonist, and community-based opioid overdose prevention programs (OPP). The success of OPP is contingent upon the willingness and effectiveness of bystanders to respond to an overdose event and administer naloxone. Emergency Response Communities (ERC) are specialized smartphone-based social networks in which member

The ERC approach, developed at Schwartz’s Social Intelligence Lab, is ideally suited to support, facilitate, and encourage naloxone administration in opioid overdose emergencies, but has yet to be applied in this challenging environment. The model combines GPS and IP-location tracking to identify potential opioid overdose through a smartphone application or app. Research is needed to understand the needs and barriers in communities at high-risk for opioid overdose that will enable effective design, adaption, and implementation of an ERC-NAX app. With ERC members being both potential beneficiaries and potential providers of an intervention, the approach has the potential of creating a particularly robust support network.

This 3-year study will provide actionable evidence regarding the viability and acceptance of an app-based naloxone intervention following the ERC model. It will be developed and tested in partnership with two community partners in Philadelphia with extensive experience in overdose prevention. Primary aims include identifying barriers and facilitators of acceptance and use of a smartphone- based ERC naloxone intervention, and pilot testing the implementation of ERC-NAX in trial population within a defined geographical area. This intervention is significant since it leverages the growing success of OPP and will empower communities at high-risk for to provide rapid, secure, and effective emergency response in the event of overdose. This novel intervention, which is designed to augment emergency medical services in the rapid delivery of opioid overdose naloxone to overdose victims, may be effective at deescalating the epidemic of opioid overdose fatalities in Philadelphia and communities elsewhere.

To learn more about the research project see:

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