Trained residents, an app and naloxone can save lives, study finds

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A new study has found that community members armed with a smartphone and naloxone can save people amid opioid overdoses.

The study from researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health looked at whether or not enrolled participants were able to successfully reverse an opioid overdose when alerted to it through a smartphone app called UnityPhilly, developed by the study team.

During 22 overdose emergencies, participants were alerted to the overdose through UnityPhilly, traveled to the location, and then administered the naloxone to the victim at the scene. In another 52 overdose emergencies, the participant who witnessed the overdose sent an alert out on the app and then gave the victim naloxone. In 95.9 percent of the cases, participants were able to successfully reverse the overdose. In over half of the incidents, participants were able to get to the victim and administer naloxone more than faster than Emergency Medical Services were able to.

Concluded in February 2020, the year-long study involved 112 adult Philadelphians, 57 of whom used opioids. Over the year, 291 suspected overdoses were reported on the app and sent to nearby volunteers. Participants were trained on how to administer the naloxone, use the app, and provide respiratory help to overdose patients. Participants were also given two doses of naloxone.

“We know that the lay public is effective at administering naloxone, but now we know that an app can help laypersons provide naloxone faster when every second counts,” said senior author Stephen Lankenau, a professor and associate dean for research at the Dornsife School of Public Health who co-led the study with David Schwartz of Bar-Ilan University, Israel. “By empowering community members with these tools, we strengthen the ‘chain of survival’ and keep people alive until EMS or other medical personal administer further aid.”

In 2019, overdose deaths rose to 72,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials predict the COVID-19 pandemic will only increase the number of overdose deaths and “deaths of despair.” As of July 15, drug deaths are up 13 percent compared to last year, according to a New York Times analysis of government data.

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