A group of medical students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) hope a new cell phone app will increase access to naloxone and help reduce the number of fatal opioid overdoses in northern Ontario.
Three students recently launched an app, called Naloxone North, which aims to show people how to obtain naloxone, a potentially life saving drug that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
“The rates of opioid overdose were already way too high. And evidence is showing now during the Covid-19 pandemic that the rates of overdose have been increasing even further,” said MacKenzie Ludgate, one of the students behind the project.
The app includes a short instructional video on proper administration of naloxone, and lists nearby pharmacies where naloxone kits are distributed. It also gives users the option to order naloxone directly to their door.
Started as class project
The initiative first started as a class project last year. When the pandemic hit, students were removed from clinical duties, and new curriculum was introduced, which focused on advocacy. In one of their classes they were asked to help address a health need in their community, explained student Owen Montpellier.
The group decided to focus on the “obvious problem and challenge” of increasing overdose deaths, Montpellier said. He said the group identified two main areas of concern to be addressed; the first being access to naloxone.
“With northern Ontario being a very widespread region with really rural and remote communities who may not have access to this medication either because they you know they don’t have a car or are not near a pharmacy,” Montpellier said.
“So that was one of them. Number two was how can we train and, how can we optimally train the population on how to use this, especially in a virtual world that we’re in now.”
The Naloxone North app aimed to address both of those concerns.
App to be released in additional languages
The app is currently only available in English, but the group said it plans to launch it in French and Oji-Cree in the coming weeks. It also hopes to translate it into other Indigenous languages.
The group also hopes to launch a website, for those who don’t have a smart phone.
Montpellier said the team has also partnered with NOSM to study uptake in different communities, and how it affects overdose rates.
“If we can save one life with this medication … then I think that’s where we’d rank our app as being a success. Anything above that is going to be a bonus,” Montpellier said.