The first rule in avoiding fatal overdose is to never use alone. But, the world in which opiate users get their fix is not an ideal one. Too often, users are by themselves when they snort, smoke, or inject a dose they think is safe but is in fact lethal. Without someone present to revive them, chances are high that they won’t wake up.
This problem led one developer to create a mobile app with a harm reduction tool. Its singular goal is to save lives. As the opiate crisis shows few signs of letting up, creative new ways to address the tragic mortality rates are welcomed.
Chris Oelerich, the app’s developer, is not a heroin user, which is why he enlisted Redditors in the /r/opiates subreddit, an open community of people with firsthand knowledge about opiate use, to help him create it. Like many subreddits, /r/opiates is an enthusiastic community. Redditors offer one another safety tips, like which regions are seeing batches of heroin enhanced with fentanyl. The day-to-day life of an opiate user may be alienating, so this virtual community puts users in touch with one another, to connect, to give and receive social support.
The way the app works is that a user designates an emergency contact to receive a text message in the event the app detects an overdose. Prior to dosing, the user sets a timer, maybe for a couple of minutes. Once those minutes are up, and the user hasn’t pushed a button indicating he or she is responsive, the app automatically sends a message to the emergency contact. The message will tell the receiver that the user is unresponsive and needs help straight away.
Its name, the Remote Egg Timer, came from the opiates subreddit. One Redditor wrote, “Can you call it a remote egg timer or some shit? Call mom when the eggs are fried? References to your brain on drugs or some shit but don’t say anything about drugs?? This needs to be in place!!!!!!!!”
Another Redditor, cleverly named OxyCaughtIn, wrote, “I will totally download this and I’ll get my sister to as well,” on the app’s thread. “Be good for times when we can’t watch out for each other.”
There are still some bugs, Oelerich told Vocativ, but most of the users so far have given the app positive reviews. Currently, Olerich is trying to make the app detect movement, which could also be a good indicator the user is out from an overdose. If the phone has not moved for a while, that would trigger a message for help. Another feature in the works is to give the GPS coordinates of the user.
Of course, this app’s ability to save lives is predicated on the notion that heroin users have smartphones, which may not always be the case.