In the United States, people are now more likely to die from a drug overdose than in a car accident.
Overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with opioids being the culprit in most of these fatalities. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose in this country, from overdoses involving heroin and prescription painkillers, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Various organizations have joined forces to battle this epidemic. But sometimes there’s no getting ahead of the problem and you have to find something to help at the last possible moment.
That’s why the Food and Drug Administration turned to Challenge.gov and ran the Naloxone App Competition.
Naloxone is a prescription medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In many communities, there has been a push to make the drug available to both emergency personnel and non-experts, such as families and friends of drug users.
The challenge is quickly connecting those with naloxone to a person experiencing an overdose.
More than 150 teams registered for the FDA’s competition and over 100 people participated in a two-day code-a-thon event, both aimed at finding technological solutions to this problem.
In the end, a solution from a small startup called PwrdBy won the $40,000 cash prize.
The company’s mobile app, OD Help, makes the life-saving connection between an overdose victim and someone who can administer naloxone. Beyond that, it has an optional interface with a breathing monitor. If someone suffering an overdose can’t make a call for help, the app can detect a decline in breathing and alert naloxone carriers of a potential overdose.
PrizeWire recently spoke to Jared Sheehan, CEO of PwrdBy, about OD Help and how the competition provided an environment that inspired innovation.
PrizeWire: Tell us a little about PwrdBy and what attracted you to the FDA Naloxone App Competition.
Sheehan: PwrdBy is a Santa Monica-based startup that provides technology innovation to the social sector. We focus primarily on nonprofits and healthcare. The FDA challenge aligned with our interest to take on a major social issue in the United States. We were really excited to see the FDA pushing the envelope with an eye for mobile innovation.
PW: Your winning solution for the challenge was OD Help. In a nutshell, what does it do and how does it do it?
Sheehan: OD Help engages opioid users, their network of supporters, and the health community to crowdsource naloxone in the case of an opioid overdose. Utilizing mobile geospatial technology the application will connect victims of overdose with carriers of naloxone. The application will also enable users to find naloxone information, resources, and help to individuals interested in learning more about opioids.
PW: PwrdBy already has worked in the health space with the In Flight Mobile App, which helps hospital fundraisers connect with donors. How challenging was it to move from that to needing to provide connections in immediate life-and-death situations?
Sheehan: OD Help actually came from our experience designing and developing In Flight. In Flight enables hospital fundraisers to geolocate fundraising partners across the United States and Canada, enable meaningful conversations, and crowdsource photos and actions. While most of the features are different, the focus on real-time, on-the-go data for users helped conceptualize how to think about building OD Help’s main functionality.
PW: Had you been following the trends in opioid use in this country, or was this a situation where you had to get educated at the same time you were developing your solution?
Sheehan: Like many in this country, we had been casually following the opioid abuse crisis. But to build something that really solves a problem, you have to thoroughly understand the end user and have empathy for their situation. We conducted interviews and combed through academic articles on the subject. Throughout our research process, we ended up challenging our own ideas of what a victim looks like.
PW: How did the challenge format shape your innovation process?
Sheehan: There is ample research to suggest that certain constraints drive creativity and innovation. The FDA was very clear about the specific issues they wanted us to focus on. The controlled setting of the challenge format really let us focus on innovative solutions.
The challenge was also interesting because of our end user. Normally, our users are conscious and able to interact with an app. That is rarely the case when someone is experiencing an opioid overdose. We really had to think outside the box and reevaluate what made the app “usable.”
PW: What’s next for OD Help? And how will you use the prize money?
Sheehan: We are currently in the process of applying for a National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant to conduct our own research and further develop the platform. We are using the $40,000 from the FDA to develop partnerships with leading researchers, medical professionals, and regulatory bodies to apply for this grant. To build a fully functional product, especially considering the risk factors, we’re going to need more support and testing.
For more on the Naloxone App Competition and OD Help, read this blog from Dr. Peter Lurie, FDA associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis.