British Columbia

Made-in-B.C. app aims to prevent overdose deaths by automatically alerting 911

Emergency responders have a new tool in the fight to keep drug-users alive.

Lifeguard launch follows province-wide spike in illicit drug deaths in March

The free Lifeguard app serves as a digital check-in, requiring drug users to respond at certain time intervals in order to show they are OK. (Lifeguard Digital Health)

It's an app designed to save people from overdosing.

But Lifeguard Digital Health CEO Jeff Hardy says the company's new tool needed specific features if it was to ever be accepted by drug users.

"The key is for a client to feel safe and secure using it," said Hardy, 51.

"It's 100 per cent anonymous... It does not contact the RCMP, it's strictly for emergency responders' use".

Lifeguard Digital Health CEO Jeff Hardy says the company's new app saved several drug users lives during trials. (Lifeguard Digital Health)

In 2017, Hardy was in treatment for alcohol use when he learned his friend Evan had overdosed on fentanyl and died.

"That was what inspired me to start developing the application and keep going," he said.

Three years later, the company's Lifeguard app aims to help drug users by connecting them with emergency services at the first sign of trouble.

The free app serves as a digital check-in, requiring drug users to respond at certain time intervals in order to show they are OK.

Before using drugs, the user opens the app. Fifty seconds later an alarm sounds, requiring the user to hit a button.

If the user fails to hit the button, the alarm grows louder.

If 75 seconds pass with no user response, the app uses a text-to-voice call to alert 911 dispatchers to a potential overdose.

The app primarily runs off the same GPS information collected when someone contacts 911.

However, users can input other information to be relayed to responders, such as their name or apartment number.

Hardy says Lifeguard saved 15 lives in a 45-day trial period and a follow-up trial found similar success — either from emergency responders or bystanders intervening after hearing the app's alarm.

"About 20 per cent of the people who are using it had some sort of help," he said.

B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy says the Lifeguard app 'couldn’t have come at a better time.' (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Spike in illicit drug deaths

Illicit drug deaths show little sign of slowing, with 113 people dying of suspected drug toxicity in March, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

It's the first time that number has passed 100 in a single month since March 2019. April's numbers have yet to be released.

B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions hopes the Lifeguard app will help high risk drug users; specifically, those using alone.

"As we face down two public health emergencies – the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic – we must ensure that people who use drugs have the resources they need" Judy Darcy said in a statement.

"The launch of this new resource couldn't have come at a better time."

The Lifeguard app is available to download now at Google Play and the App Store.

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