Overdose Prevention – new technology-based solutions

An innovative way of preventing opiate overdose deaths is through emerging online technologies. Online user forums as well as informative websites and mobile phone apps, are an asset in improving access to both information and naloxone itself.

Web-based interventions are easily accessible from non-urban areas and across the globe, and help to circumvent stigma, punitive drug policies and harsh law enforcement. Besides, as the growing online drug market challenges traditional harm reduction service provision such as outreach work, innovative projects are using the same online channels to provide harm reduction services. High quality information websites and instructive apps increase access to information on overdose prevention, preparing PWUD and those near to them to properly respond in the event of an opioid overdose.

Overall, the use of technology in support of the response to opioid overdose falls into two overlapping categories, namely community-based networking of the response to overdose emergencies; and monitoring and research in support of risk management and response readiness. Among others, apps may offer geobased information on naloxone availability and harm reduction services to PWUD (connecting people in need of naloxone/services with those who can provide it). Other apps concentrate on post event incident reporting and monitoring of overdose only. These can potentially generate important data for overdose prevention projects and policy planning.

Innovation, however, does not come without challenges. Not all people possess mobile phones, and there are limits to current location technology to provide accurate geospatial location. Besides, safety, privacy and data security measures must be adapted to safeguard app users from law enforcement, hackers, and potential malicious behaviour by other app users. Finally, assuring uptake and acceptance by the PWUD community is essential, as well as securing funding to (further) develop tech-savvy initiatives to prevent overdose deaths.

Source: Jean-Paul Grund & Graham Shaw (2019), Overdose Prevention – new technology-based Solutions. Correlation European Harm Reduction Network, Amsterdam.