B.C. youth develop life-saving app to assist in overdose emergencies

Android-friendly app designed for teens developed with help of health authority, paramedics

A potentially life-saving app has been created by a group of Chilliwack teens, with the help of Fraser Health and B.C. Paramedics.

OD Hero, available now for Android devices only, can walk anyone through an overdose situation or alcohol poisoning, even if they’re not in WiFi range. The app has been in development for more than a year, through a now-unfunded program called VOYCE Youth.

The impetus for the app came out of a local event where the discussion turned to resuscitation, and how sometimes youth will be faced with an overdose or over-drinking scenario away from cellphone or WiFi service. The group’s facilitator at the time, Vincent Giesbrecht, knew this, because he had just been in that very situation.

“I told a story about a party I had gone to, about two weeks prior,” he says, back in the winter of 2016. “This boy had asthma, he drank vodka and had an asthma attack. It was not good, he was not responding.”

Things continued to go wrong.

“The most alarming thing about it was his friends didn’t know what to do,” Giesbrecht recalls. “There was a crowd of about 20 totally smothering him. They were slapping him awake, arguing about whether they should put him on back, or his side. They even tried to stand him up.”

The reasons things got so out of hand are common, he said. Nobody wants to be the one to call 911; nobody wants to be the one to be in trouble.

“Nobody wanted to take him to the hospital,” he said. It wasn’t until the DJ at the party stopped the music that they got the teen the help he needed.

But here’s the thing that a lot of teenagers and drug users alike don’t know. They won’t get in trouble. And the OD Hero tells the app user exactly what to expect in these types of scenarios. There is a Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, providing protection for those who call 911 and administer first aid to someone overdosing.

The app explains, for example, that if you are using with someone and they overdose, neither of you will be charged for possession.

That call can mean the difference between life and death. But the app also helps improve the situation for people who are offline — something that can often happen in the summer with bush parties, or with teens who may not have roaming data.

OD Hero uses clear, concise images, descriptions and instructions for overdose first aid basics, like how to place someone in recovery position. And it’s information that is going to be useful to more than just heavy partiers or drug users.

“At first when we started to develop the app, people would say to us, ‘well we’re not drug users, we don’t need this,’” Giesbrecht says. But in the wake of the current opioid crisis, they firmly believe that being able to help in an overdose situation is everyone’s concern.

READ: Parents call for change to health laws after Victoria teen’s death

“Even if you’re not part of the party scene it can useful,” he says. “Even just walking by someone on the sidewalk, you can now have the resource to use at any time. We wanted to make it easy.”

While VOYCE Youth was once a funded program, that funding ran out last year in the middle of development. The group decided to push ahead with the app because, they argued, it was that important.

Maggie Aronoff (in Mission) was the Local Action Team Coordinator from the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice (working under the Child & Youth Mental Health & Substance Use Collaborative – temporary funding) who finished the project with the youth, published the app and helped the youth promote.

“This is something they came up with,” she says of the youth involved. “It didn’t cost much of anything, because we had adults helping and youth driving the project. Adam Shelley did all of the program. He donated, I don’t know many hours.”

Cherie Martens (in Maple Ridge) was the Youth Adult Partnership Coordinator who initially helped the youth and sought out all the expert opinions from Fraser Health, College of Paramedics, RCMP, and others, and recruited a volunteer programmer. Haley Hodgkinson and Aaron Cusson joined on as Youth Coordinators after Giesbrecht graduated. Other key youth involved in the project include Eric MacAulay and Marina Heath.

The app finally launched on April 23 on Google Play. That cost about $125, and it would cost about that to have the app added to iTunes, to be compatible with iPhones.

“At this point, the group has no budget,” Aronoff says. They are working on finding another sponsor for the app, and the group continues to meet, although their meetings are virtual now instead of in person. They are continuing to work on events and causes that are important to them, including an upcoming alternative prom celebration that will be open to more people than the strict rules in place through the Chilliwack school district.

They’re also working on getting the word out about the app, without having funding for advertising or a connected organization to do that for them. The Chilliwack Division of Family Practice has promoted the app on social media, and the group members are sharing the info through word of mouth.

To download the OD Hero app through Google Play, search for OD Hero. To contact Aronoff, email ChilliwackVOYCE@gmail.com.


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