Startup-led team wins FDA opioid overdose app contest

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The Food and Drug Administration has selected a team led by a small Venice, Calif.-based startup as the winner of an industry challenge to develop a mobile app to help connect opioid users experiencing an overdose with nearby carriers of the drug naloxone for emergency treatment.

The OD Help app, developed by Team PwrdBy, beat 44 other submissions to take home the cash prize of $40,000, says Peter Lurie, MD, the FDA’s associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis.

“OD Help is a simple, easy-to-use mobile app designed to connect potential opioid overdose victims with a crowd-sourced network of naloxone carriers,” wrote Lurie in a December 15 blog, adding that the app “can easily be tailored for use in rural or urban areas by expanding or contracting the radius within which naloxone carriers are sought.”

In September, the FDA launched the Naloxone App Competition in an effort to combat the dramatic increase in the number of U.S. opioid overdose deaths, many of which could be avoided if people experiencing an overdose had immediately received the life-saving medication, according to the regulatory agency. However, until now, no app has been available to connect those carrying naloxone with nearby opioid overdose victims.

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Among other features, OD Help has an optional interface with a breathing monitor to detect when a victim’s breathing rate is dangerously low, a sign of an opioid overdose. “Hence, if the victim is alone and unable to call for help, OD Help will detect the diminished breathing and alert a naloxone carrier of the potential overdose,” Lurie said.

Other features of the app include: only alerting people in one’s support network and allowing naloxone carriers to disable alerts when they are unable to respond, as well as providing instructions on how to correctly diagnose an overdose/administer naloxone and contact emergency medical services when help is required.

Lurie contends that OD Help “has the potential to make a real difference in the fight against opioid overdose.” Representatives from PwrdBy were not immediately available for comment.

The FDA hosted a code-a-thon October 19 and 20 at its White Oak campus in Silver Spring, Md., to develop the concepts and initial prototypes. More than 100 individuals participated either in-person or virtually in the two-day event.

The rules of the competition required participants to submit a video of a functional app prototype along with a brief summary of their concept for a crowd-sourced mobile phone app that could help accelerate delivery of naloxone to a person experiencing an overdose.

A video of the OD Help app can be viewed here.

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