New app tested in Ontario to prevent overdoses

May 5, 2021

Healthcare providers across Canada are now testing an app designed to reduce overdose-related deaths. The mHealth app, originally created by Lifeguard Digital Health based in Vancouver, was released in May 2020 in British Columbia through the Provincial Health Services Authority and regional healthcare providers. Since its release, B.C. officials have stated that it has been used by more than 5,000 individuals and has helped save at least 17 lives.

In Ontario, NorWest Community Health Centres are preparing to test a similar app called Lifeguard aimed to prevent deaths due to overdose among drug users. Also developed by Lifeguard Digital Health, this app can be activated by the user before he or she uses a drug and includes an alarm that grows louder from one to five minutes after activation. If the user fails to turn off the alarm, the app sends a text-to-voice call to emergency medical dispatchers to alert them to a potential overdose.

In 2020, Ontario witnessed over 2,000 overdose-related deaths, corresponding to an increase of nearly 60% compared to 2019. The testing of the Lifeguard app in Ontario and its rollout is coordinated by NorWest Community Health Centres, with one-time funding from The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board through the province of Ontario..

“With our commitment to primary health care as well as prevention, the Lifeguard App provides an innovative solution to the ongoing overdose crisis,” said NorWest CEO Juanita Lawson in a press release. “By incorporating the Lifeguard App into the services offered in our region, we are confident we can not only save lives, but nurture safer, healthier communities.”

In addition to the alarm, the Lifeguard app also provides links to a suicide hotline, a crisis hotline and the 811 hotline for medical advice. It also offers instructions on CPR and Naloxone treatment for individuals who may be with the user in order to help them before medical services arrive.

Since the app needs to be activated by the user, it gives them the power to decide whether they need help when using drugs. According to telehealth advocates, this type of technology can help the user take charge of their healthcare decisions and even help to create new pathways toward substance abuse treatment.