Calgary-based app wants to fight overdoses with technology


The ORCA app will connect people to information about fentanyl and other opioids and help them locate naloxone kits in their neighbourhood

By: Elizabeth Cameron/For Metro Published on Wed Sep 27 2017

Four months ago, Re Carlson didn’t know what a naloxone kit was.

Fast forward to the present, and he’s getting ready to launch an app that will enable Albertans to proactively educate themselves about fentanyl and other opioids, as well as locate the closest kit to them.

“This could be a platform for sharing information with your teens or your friends – to be more aware of the risks of opioid addiction and respond calmly and effectively in the case of an emergency – but also make people aware they can get a free naloxone kit from the pharmacy down the street,” Carlson told Metro.

The free app, named ORCA (overdose response and community access), leverages open data from the provincial government about where to obtain take-home naloxone and find other harm reduction resources.

When a friend’s son died from an opioid overdose earlier this year, Carlson, a website developer, said he realized his questions about harm reduction were shared by many.

“The (provincial) government’s done a great job of telling us that naloxone kits exist,” Carlson said. “But if people don’t know they’re free or where to get them, then these kits are potentially sitting on pharmacy shelves collecting dust and reaching their expiry date when they could be out there in the community closer to someone at risk.”

When Drew Gillson, co-founder of the e-commerce platform Live Out There, heard about ORCA, he said he immediately wanted to get involved.

“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart,” he said. “It’s a really tough problem, but I think we can do more to get the public involved to try and solve it.”

The ORCA team is finishing the app’s development and hopes to make it available to the public as soon as possible. Eventually, Carlson said data from B.C. and Ontario will also be available.

“We’ve created a platform for all the data to be formatted the same way, so any municipality in the world could use this as a way to enter locations of naloxone kits – or any resource, really,” Carlson said.

They’re also hoping to collaborate with local harm reduction agencies to spread the word about the app.

“There’s several agencies in Calgary that do a really wonderful job (educating people about harm reduction) already, but they’re not in technology,” Gillson said. “For guys like us, this is what we do for a living.”

Carlson said he’s fully aware ORCA won’t stop people from doing drugs.

“But we know that we can connect them to a resource that could potentially save their life and end up resulting in their road to recovery,” he said.

“Some people just need to be kept alive long enough until they realize they want to get help.”

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