Alberta Health creates drug overdose app
March 24, 2021
CALGARY – To reduce deaths from drug overdoses, Alberta Health has unveiled a new app called the Digital Overdose Response System (DORS). The app will trigger a call from the STARS emergency centre if an individual becomes unresponsive to a timer – similar to B.C.’s Lifeguard app.
The announcement comes months after Alberta Health quashed a phone-based supervised consumption project hours before launch last June. This service would have allowed clients to speak with a peer operator who would monitor them after substance use. Emergency services would be dispatched if they became unresponsive.
The new app, which will cost the government $325,000 to develop and test, is expected to launch in Calgary this summer with plans to expand to other communities next year. Users will be asked to include location information when using the downloadable resource.
Once that’s complete, a two-minute timer will begin once they initiate it. An alarm will then go off and users can respond by extending the session or ending the session if they are comfortable. No response will trigger a call from STARS, which will dispatch EMS if needed.
Its focus is on people using substances alone.
Provincial data suggests 70 percent of Albertans who died from opioid overdoses last year did so in a private residence. From 2018 to 2020, upwards of 80 percent of opioid-related fatalities in Calgary and Edmonton occurred in suburban neighbourhoods outside the downtown core.
“Oftentimes when emergency services respond to a drug-related call at a private home, it is too late,” said Andrea Robertson (pictured), president of STARS Air Ambulance, in a statement.
“The DORS app will change that by giving us the ability to get to people sooner. We are pleased to be the emergency response partner in this new app so that emergency services can play a role in keeping Albertans alive.”
Speaking at a news conference, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan said this last year has been “especially difficult” for people with substance use disorders.
“Sadly, 1,128 Albertans lost their lives as a result of an overdose last year. Each death is a tragedy, and my heart goes out to each family, friend and other loved one for experiencing such a loss,” Luan said.