FDA app would direct overdose victims to nearest Narcan

The competition seeks to align public health forces with technology experts as communities across the nation remain in the grip of a heroin and opioid epidemic

By Jill Harmacinski
The Eagle-Tribune

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Overdosing on heroin or another opiate? Soon, there could be an app for that.

The federal government is hosting a competition -- a call for innovators who can develop a mobile phone application that will help a person having or witnessing an opioid or heroin overdose get the quickest access to the drug naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, which can reverse the overdose.

The competition seeks to align public health forces with technology experts as communities North of Boston and across the nation remain in the grip of a heroin and opioid epidemic.

Registration for the competition closed Friday and no late registrations are allowed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hopes to announce the winner by the end of this year, a spokesman said.

The FDA would not say whether anyone from this region had registered as a contest participant.

"The goal of this competition is to develop a low-cost, scalable, crowd-source mobile application that addresses the issue of accessibility," said Dr. Peter Lurie, FDA associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis, in a statement.

Lurie noted that mobile phone apps have been developed to educate people on how to identify when someone is overdosing and how administer naloxone or perform CPR.

"To date, however, no application is available to connect carriers of naloxone with nearby opioid overdose victims," he said.

Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014. Additionally, according to the FDA, overdose deaths involving prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine and illicit opioids, such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl, have more than tripled since 1999.

Many of these deaths could have been avoided if people overdosing had immediately received naloxone, according to the FDA.

Naloxone is routinely used locally by police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency room staffers to reverse opioid overdoses. The number of laypersons provided naloxone nearly tripled between 2010 and 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Through this competition, we are tapping public health-focused innovators to help bring technological solutions to a real-world problem that is costing the U.S. thousands of lives each year," said Dr. Robert M. Califf, an FDA commissioner, in a statement.

"With a dramatic increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., there's a vital need to harness the power of new technologies to quickly and effectively link individuals experiencing an overdose -- or a bystander such as a friend or family member -- with someone who carries and can administer the life-saving medication," Califf added.

Participants will be given access to background resources, including information on the opioid epidemic, health recommendations for the safe and appropriate use of naloxone and mobile medical applications, according to the FDA.

On Oct. 19-20, the FDA will host a two-day "code-a-thon" so entrants can develop their concepts. Participants will then redefine their concept and submit a video and a brief summary of their concept by Nov. 7.

Representatives from the FDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Services Administration will judge the contest. The highest scoring entrant will receive a $40,000 award, according to the FDA.

The app competition was developed under the American Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science (COMPETES) Act of 2010. The act allows federal agencies to host prize competitions "to spur innovation, solve tough problems and advance their core missions," according to the FDA.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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