Open Innovation Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic

Published Nov-27-17

A crowdsourced app that could save the lives of opioid overdose victims.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States

The Story:

Open Innovation Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic Opioid abuse is a huge problem in many countries. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the United States, 90 Americans a day are overdosing on opioids. Since 1999 overdose deaths involving prescription opioids such as oxycodone and morphine and illicit opioids have more than tripled. In 2014 alone, 28,000 people died from an opioid overdose.

Yet many of these deaths could have been avoided if naloxone had been immediately administered. Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose allowing more time for emergency treatment. It has a very high success rate and is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines.

Solutions via Open Innovation

So to combat the rising opioid epidemic the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with support from NIDA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched the 2016 Naloxone App Competition, an open innovation search for the development of novel technologies around naloxone.

"With a dramatic increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., there’s a vital need to harness the power of new technologies to quickly and effectively link individuals experiencing an overdose – or a bystander such as a friend or family member – with someone who carries and can administer the life-saving medication," said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D.

In the United States, naloxone is only available by prescription, although in some states steps have been taken to make it readily accessible to first responders, community-based organizations and laypersons, such as friends and relations of opioid users.

The contest's specific goal was the development of a low-cost, scalable, crowdsourced mobile application that addresses the issue of accessibility. Already there are crowdsourced apps to help members of the public recognise symptoms of overdose and administer naloxone, but none to connect carriers of naloxone with people who are overdosing.

Concept and Prototype Development

Participants could be individuals or teams and once registered were given access to a number of background resources including information on the opioid epidemic and approved formulations of naloxone. Then in October 2016, a two-day code-a-thon was held on the FDA campus and online for participants to develop their concepts and initial prototypes. All code was made open source and publicly accessible. Following this event, innovators were given a few weeks to refine their concepts and submit a video of a functional prototype with a brief summary.

OD Help

The overall winner out of 45 submissions was an app called OD Help by a small start-up from Venice, California. Their app is designed to connect potential opioid overdose victims with a network of naloxone carriers. There is also an optional interface with a breathing monitor to detect when a person's breathing rate is dangerously low, which is a sign of an overdose. If the individual is alone and unable to call for help the app will alert nearby carriers.

The team was awarded a $40,000 prize and followed the win by a search for grants to fund further development of the life-saving app.

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