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'Emergency services saved my life:' positive feedback for new app

Last Updated Mar 24, 2021 at 6:22 pm MDT

Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen are shown on June 20, 2012. How governments fund the country's fight against the opioid crisis may contribute to "a lack of progress" on the issue, says newly disclosed documents that probe an alternative financing model eyed by Health Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — A grim update from the province on opioid overdoses during the pandemic.

A record number of 1,128 Albertans died last year from overdoses, including 123 in December as many restrictions were being reimposed.

“In 2020, 70 per cent of overdose fatalities in Alberta occurred in a private setting, this is tragic and preventable,” said Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

This data is part of why the government is launching a new app called Digital Overdose Response System, or DORS, which it hopes will save lives.

Luan says COVID-19 has impacted everyone, but it’s been even more challenging for vulnerable Albertans.

READ MORE: Over $160,000 in drugs and cash seized near Didsbury

“EMS responses, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations have all been increased since the pandemic reached Alberta.”

DORS — developed by Alberta-based Aware360 Ltd. — is being tested now in Calgary with plans to roll it out over the summer, and potentially open up usage province-wide down the road.

Andrea Robertson, the president and CEO of STARS Air Ambulance, explains often when emergency services respond to a drug-related call, it’s too late, and the new app will change that.

“It takes a village as we all know, to save a single life, and I think that this is a great example of that, and so we’re pleased to be part of a solution for our community, and to be part of the support for people struggling with addiction.”

Chris Guerin, an Albertan in his fifth year of long-term recovery, explains drugs were a part of his life from birth.

“I chose to use fentanyl and meth, often using at home, both of my parents were also in active-addiction, these drugs took me to the streets,” he said. “I overdosed several times, at those times I was lucky enough not to be alone and emergency services saved my life.”

Guerin feels this app is a positive step forward in the fight against overdoses.

READ MORE: Overshadowed by a pandemic, Canada’s opioid crisis worsening as drugs become more potent

“It might help others find recovery as well. I can’t help but think about how many of my friends who have used at home, often alone, and didn’t make it.”

Anyone using opioids or other substances at home can connect to the app which has a timer.

If the timer goes off and the person doesn’t respond when prompted by the system, a dispatcher from STARS will attempt to contact them.

If they don’t receive a response, EMS will be alerted and dispatched to respond as a presumed overdose.

Alberta Health Services’ Naomi Nania, a paramedic and public education officer in the Calgary Zone, explains this application could help them to more quickly respond to patients in need of help.

“In 2018 to 2020, 60 to 80 per cent of opioid-related fatalities in Calgary and Edmonton occurred in suburban neighbourhoods, outside the downtown core,” she said. “People who use drugs at home are a hard-to-reach segment of the population.”