In 2016 and 2017, opioid overdoses killed more Americans than the Vietnam War and more than deaths due to HIV/AIDS during that epidemic´s peak in 1995. As this immense public-health crisis goes unabated, overdose deaths are increasing rapidly around the globe. By end of 2017, opioid deaths in Canada surpassed 4000 and Australia had registered the highest number of overdose deaths in twenty years. Since 2014, the number of overdose deaths in Europe has increased every year. In many other regions people die from overdose without it being properly recorded. Indeed, overdose is affecting families around the globe. In many places this goes largely undocumented.
A growing share of overdose deaths is associated with (prescribed and illicit) fentanyl, its analogues or other synthetic opioids – in Canada from 5% in 2012 to nearly 80% in 2017. Between 2009 and 2016, 25 new opioids were detected in 10 EU countries; nine of those were reported first in 2016. Among these were 18 fentalogues and eight were reported for the first time in 2016.
The present response to acute opioid overdose, if existent, is designed around the availability of the antidote naloxone. The burden of effectiveness for the actual response relies largely on professional first responders, and is characterized by 20th century communication infrastructures and tools, which do not facilitate rapid and accurately coordinated responses to overdoses. The enormous potential for volunteer action associated with the high level of awareness and concern over the opioid crisis among the public is not utilized.
We are developing a suite of mobile tools to combat the opioid overdose epidemic. The core application concerns OD Buster, which connects people in need of help with an overdose with naloxone carrying volunteers in the vicinity, in real-time. At this point, we are testing the first prototype of OD Buster.
In response to the increasing proliferation of fentalogues (fentanyl and its analogs), we have started developing FenChecker, a mobile mapping and information app that people who use drugs (PWUD) can use to check for and report the presence of fentanyl in their neighborhood.