Perhaps all it will take is a little old-fashioned innovation and ingenuity to stop thousands of Americans from dying drug-related deaths every year.
Coinciding with the start of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it’s hosting a competition, seeking ideas for smartphone apps to help prevent overdose deaths. More than 165,000 Americans have died from prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet since 1999, and there is a drug out there that reverses such overdoses, called naloxone.
But it’s available only by prescription, the FDA notes, and connecting drug abusers with it can be difficult. They hope this competition will result in a working mobile app that quickly links individuals with the closest source of naloxone.
“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,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D., said in a press release. “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.”
The FDA, in concert with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is inviting anyone from the general public to take part in its 2016 Naloxone App Competition. Computer programmers, public health advocates, clinical researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators are all welcome. Those interested have until Oct. 7 to register for the competition, which will grant participants access to background resources such as approved formulations of naloxone, public health recommendations for the safe use of the drug, and FDA guidance on developing medical-related mobile apps.
On Oct. 19 and 20, the FDA plans to host a code-a-thon both virtually and on its campus in Maryland to develop initial concepts. Those competing then must develop a video of a functional prototype by Nov. 7, which will then be reviewed by a panel of judges from the FDA, NIDA and SAMSHA. Winners will grab a $40,000 award, according to the press release.
Some 28,000 individuals died in 2014 alone from painkiller overdoses, the FDA notes, and many of those deaths could have easily been avoided with the antidote. Efforts have been made in recent years to get naloxone into the hands of first responders, community-based organizations and the family and friends of opioid-dependent folks. Those efforts have paid off, according to the CDC, with the number of laypersons providing naloxone tripling between 2010 and 2014.