FDA launches app competition to combat opioid overdoses

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The Food and Drug Administration has launched a competition to develop a low-cost, scalable, crowd-sourced mobile phone app to help connect opioid users experiencing an overdose with nearby carriers of the prescription drug naloxone, a medication that reverse the effects of opioid overdose.

“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,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD.

The Naloxone App Competition, which is open to the public, will be conducted by the FDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Judges from the FDA, NIDA and SAMHSA will evaluate submissions and will award $40,000 to the entrant with the highest evaluated score.

“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,” added Califf.

According to the FDA, many of these deaths could have been avoided if people experiencing an overdose had immediately received naloxone to stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The problem, the regulatory agency contends, is that persons carrying naloxone may not be present when an overdose occurs. However, FDA officials say an app could help increase the likelihood that opioid users, their immediate personal networks and first responders are able to identify and react to an overdose by administering naloxone.

“Mobile phone applications have been developed to educate laypersons on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone, and to connect bystanders with individuals in need of other medical services, such as CPR. To date, however, no application is available to connect carriers of naloxone with nearby opioid overdose victims,” said Peter Lurie, MD, the FDA’s associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis.

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Those who want to enter the app competition have until October 7 to register. Registrants will have access to background resources, including information on the opioid epidemic, the approved formulations of naloxone, the public health recommendations for the safe and appropriate use of naloxone, as well as FDA guidance on mobile medical apps.

In addition, the FDA will host an onsite code-a-thon October 19 and 20 at its campus and virtually for registered entrants to develop their concepts and initial prototypes. The agency said that all code will be made open-source and publicly accessible.

Participants will be required to submit a video of a functional prototype along with a brief summary of their concept for the development and use of the app by November 7. The FDA’s announcement in the Federal Register is available here.

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