Alberta to test new app to reduce overdose deaths – NDP say similar program cancelled last year

by Stephen Dafoe

The Government of Alberta is allocating $325,00 to develop and test a new Digital Overdose Response System (DORS), a mobile app the UCP says would help protect opioids and other substance users while alone in their homes.

“We know that most people who fatally overdose in Alberta, do so in a private home. Among the first of its kind in Canada, the DORS app will help prevent opioid and other substance-related deaths by those using alone at home,” said Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan. “Launching this app is another important step in building a full recovery-oriented continuum of care for addiction treatment in the province.”

The app, triggers a call from the STARS emergency centre if the individual becomes unresponsive to a timer. That in turn dispatches emergency response in the event of a presumed overdose. The app also provides info about recovery-oriented supports and services available in the area.

Calgary will begin testing the app this summer, after which it will be rolled out to other communities in 2022.

The system will begin testing in Calgary this summer and is expected to expand to other communities next year after the testing phase is complete.

In 2020, 1,128 people died in Alberta from an opioid overdose, 70 per cent of those in a private residence.

STARS Air Ambulance President and CEO Andrea Robertson said it is often too late when emergency services respond to a drug-related call at a private home. “The DORS app will change that by giving us the ability to get to people sooner,” Robertson said. “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.”

Alberta’s NDP Opposition was quick to criticize Luan for having personally cancelled a similar program last June that AHS was ready to launch.

“Associate Minister Jason Luan, with no medical training, politically interfered in a clinical program that would have saved lives,” said Lori Sigurdson, NDP Critic for Mental Health and Addiction in a media release Tuesday afternoon. “I am devastated by how many Albertans have died over the past year, and by how many Albertans died alone over the past nine months while this UCP government withheld medical help from them.

Sigurdson said she was appalled the program announced Tuesday will not be ready until the summer, even then, only in Calgary.”

British Columbia’s Lifeguard overdose prevention app has been available since May of 2020.

“Telephone-based supervised consumption services are harm reduction programs,” said Sigurdson, adding the NDP are calling on the UCP for immediate app access.. “I am glad the UCP is coming around to something that the rest of the world has known for decades, which is that harm reduction saves lives and gives people a chance to make different choices.”

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