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New app saving lives, changing minds

New app saving lives, changing minds

In the midst of ongoing dual public health emergencies, a new app has been launched to prevent overdose deaths in B.C.

Lifeguard Digital Health CEO Jeff Hardy was inspired to develop the application after losing a friend to a fentanyl overdose. Launched in May 2020, the app has continued to gain popularity among people who use drugs and those who support them.

The concept is simple: Once downloaded on a mobile device, the app is activated by the user before they take their dose. After 50 seconds the app will sound an alarm. If the person using the app doesn’t hit a button to stop the alarm, indicating they are fine, the alarm grows louder and if the individual does not respond the app will trigger medical assistance. 

Peer outreach has played a significant role in encouraging people to try the free Lifeguard app. Kelowna’s PEOPLE Employment Services has been providing hands-on tutorials about installation and use. Peers showing Peers how to download and use the app makes a big difference. Kelowna now has one of the highest numbers of people downloading the Lifeguard app in BC. 

“It was a perfect fit with what we were already doing in the community,” says Executive Director Dhorea Ramanula. “We were seeing and hearing about a lot of folks who were feeling lonely and isolated due to COVID-19. Being alone and using drugs, especially now, is a dangerous combination and we wanted to do more to save lives.”

One Peer involved in promoting the Lifeguard app in the Kootenay region is Frank, who works as an advocate and identifies as an empowered drug user. Frank has personally used the app several times and describes it as a “kick-ass resource” that is well-designed, particularly for people who are using drugs alone due to shame and blame that so often accompanies substance use.

Frank says for some people using the app can be a first step to reintroducing self-care.

“It’s a way I can take care of myself. Any way I can get into self-care is positive, and the app is a simple way to do that. Once I switch from cloaking myself in shame to saying ‘I’m going to do this little thing to take care of myself’, everything changes. Nothing about my drug use changes, but actually everything changes, because I’m saying ‘I’m worth it. I deserve to live’. It can be a tipping point from ‘this is a shameful, dirty secret’ to ‘it’s ok for me to protect myself.’ And then that can develop into ‘I’m going to brush my teeth’ and ‘I’m going to talk to my care provider.”

“I can’t overstate the power that has.”

The Lifeguard app is expected to help address overdose rates among people who use drugs alone – the group at the highest risk of fatal overdose.

The Lifeguard app is continuing to improve since its initial launch. It now includes access to additional crisis lines as well as guides to perform CPR and deliver Naloxone.

“There are a number of reasons why people choose to use their substances alone, and while we encourage people to ideally access an overdose prevention site, or use with someone who can administer Naloxone, the Lifeguard app is a safeguard for those people who don’t have those options available to them,” says IH Substance Use Practice Lead Amanda Lavigne.

“You can drastically change the outcome of your use. Because it is incredibly risky,” says Frank.

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