Alberta to test new overdose prevention mobile app

Apr 6, 2021

The Government of Alberta plans to test a new mobile app with the aim of protecting individuals who use opioids and other substances alone in their homes.

The app, called the Digital Overdose Response System (DORS) can trigger a call from the STARS emergency centre if the user becomes unresponsive to a timer. As a result, emergency services will be sent to their location to evaluate and potentially treat the individual for a suspected overdose.

Moreover, the app will also provide information about recovery-oriented support and services available in the user’s area.

“We know that most people who fatally overdose in Alberta, do so in a private home. Among the first of its kind in Canada, the DORS app will help prevent opioid and other substance-related deaths by those using alone at home,” said Jason Luan, Alberta’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in a statement. “Launching this app is another important step in building a full recovery-oriented continuum of care for addiction treatment in the province.”

Testing of the app will begin this summer in Calgary, and it’s expected that its use will be expanded to other communities next year after the testing phase is completed.

So far, Alberta substance use surveillance data has shown that COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on individuals struggling with addiction. Last year, 1,128 people died in Alberta from an opioid overdose.

“EMS is proud to have been an adviser in the development of this application. People who use drugs at home are a hard-to-reach segment of the population. We have unfortunately had many fatal overdoses in private homes in suburban areas,” said Curtis Swanson, director of Clinical Operations, Calgary Zone EMS, Alberta Health Services. “This new technology will connect those individuals with emergency services, as well as treatment and recovery services to assist them in taking the steps towards long-term recovery.”

According to the Alberta Government, 70% of overdose deaths in Alberta took place in private residences in 2020.

Moreover, from 2018 to 2020, 60-80% of opioid-related fatalities in Calgary and Edmonton occurred in suburban neighbourhoods outside of the downtown core. Finally, over half of all opioid-related EMS calls are made outside of the downtown core, according to the provincial government.

The provincial government has noted that the DORS app is one of many reduction measures that receives funding from the Government of Alberta. Other services include supervised consumption and overdose prevention services, as well as the Opioid Agonist Therapy Gap Coverage program and the Virtual Opioid Dependency program, which currently has no wait list.

Naloxone kits are also available for free at many locations across the province, containing medication which can reverse an opioid overdose if administered in time.

The budget for the app testing phase is $325,000, which will also support its development. The provincial government has also stated that ongoing operational costs will be informed by the test phase and finalized when the app becomes expanded across Alberta next year.