The Lifeguard app is designed to help people using illicit drugs get help if they overdose. (Black Press Media files)

‘Lifeguard’ app launches as a made-in-B.C. solution to help prevent overdose deaths

B.C. recorded record-breaking number of fatal overdoses in May

Jeff Hardy is not stranger to substance use issues in B.C., having sought out treatment for alcohol use years ago.

But it was when a friend died of a fentanyl overdose that the B.C. man began to brainstorm a strategy.

“There must be something else that can be done here to help people,” Hardy said, recalling his thoughts at the time of his friend’s death.

Hardy, of White Rock, wanted to create a buddy system of some sort, as using alone is considered a high-risk factor for a fatal overdose. In May, 85 per cent of overdose deaths happened indoors.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and attempts to slow transmission of the virus, have added to isolation for everyone in B.C., including people who use illicit drugs. May was the worst month on record for fatal overdoses since the crisis began more than four years ago. The 170 deaths in May rose above the previous record of 160 deaths, set in December 2016.

READ MORE: B.C. records highest ever number of fatal overdoses in May with 170 deaths

Hardy knew he couldn’t provide an in-person buddy for every person using drugs, but realized that he could dial one in.

“Everybody has a cellphone,” he said.

“The key was to be able to get emergency responders to anybody that would need it if they were in trouble because they were alone when they overdosed.”

Enter Lifeguard. The Vancouver-based app is available for free for both Apple iOS and Android devices and uses GPS tracking to bring an ambulance to a user who is overdosing.

To set it up, Hardy says, you just enter your first and last name and your phone number, which allows the app to verify your identity. Then, just before a person begins to use, they will load up the app and enter which drug they’re using. That, Hardy said, helps first responders tailor the help they provide. The user must then confirm their GPS location and provide any other location details – say if they’re in a bathroom or other specific location – and then press start.

This kickstarts a one-minute timer, which users can snooze if they need more time.

“The majority of overdoses happen pretty quick,” Hardy said. That’s especially true for fentanyl, which preliminary government data shows was present in 70 per cent of fatal overdoses in May.

When there is just 10 seconds left, an alarm will begin to ring, getting progressively louder. If the user doesn’t tap the red stop button, B.C. Emergency Health Services will be alerted – but the police won’t be.

“This is not a tool to give information to the police, or anybody who’s going to try and force the law on you,” Hardy said.

That aspect was crucial to Hardy.

“It’s anonymous. This isn’t one of those things that [police] are a part of.”

Information, he added, is only shared with BCEHS in the event that a person overdoses and an ambulance is dispatched.

The alarm set off by the timer will continue to ring until emergency services arrive and are able to administer naloxone or provide any other medical help.

“Hopefully, somebody will hear you and come and try and help you before the ambulance even gets there.”

But keeping someone alive is just the first step. The app can also connect user to a crisis line that is answered 24/7.

“It’s important that somebody answers quickly,” Hardy said.

“If you’re somebody that wants to get into drug and alcohol counselling… or any type of treatment, whatever it is you need – that’s where the whole process starts.”

The app, which launched in May, has been used more than 1,000 times by 600 people.

Hardy worked with the Provincial Health Authority, BCEHS and other provincial bodies to test and pilot the app in “controlled environments.”

“More and more people are starting to download it. It’s becoming a habit [to use the app],” Hardy said. The feedback from initial testing in Vancouver Downtown Eastside showed the app made people more aware of how many times they used drugs, he added.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from all walks of life.”

READ MORE: Wife of yogi who overdosed asks B.C.’s top doc to announce drug deaths like COVID fatalities


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

B.C. overdosesoverdose

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Fundraising begins to bring back Mountainview Lodge bus

The bus went out of use about two years ago, isolating many seniors in the Kitimat community.

Police investigate July 2 homicide in Houston

Man succumbed to injuries at Pearson Road residence

Water fights and food trucks: Kitimat residents celebrate Canada Day with sun and smiles

Celebrations still brought smiles and laughs, even if the day was a little different than usual

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

13 new B.C. COVID-19 cases, Langley Lodge outbreak ends

Health care outbreaks down to four, 162 cases active

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

Community infrastructure funding announced for 24 Northern B.C. projects

Recipients include municipalities, First Nations and not-for-profits

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Lower Mainland teacher facing child pornography charges

Elazar Reshef, 52, has worked in the Delta School District

Most Read