The Lifeguard app is designed to help people using illicit drugs get help if they overdose. (Black Press Media files)

‘Lifeguard’ app launches as a made-in-B.C. solution to help prevent overdose deaths

B.C. recorded record-breaking number of fatal overdoses in May

Jeff Hardy is not stranger to substance use issues in B.C., having sought out treatment for alcohol use years ago.

But it was when a friend died of a fentanyl overdose that the B.C. man began to brainstorm a strategy.

“There must be something else that can be done here to help people,” Hardy said, recalling his thoughts at the time of his friend’s death.

Hardy, of White Rock, wanted to create a buddy system of some sort, as using alone is considered a high-risk factor for a fatal overdose. In May, 85 per cent of overdose deaths happened indoors.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and attempts to slow transmission of the virus, have added to isolation for everyone in B.C., including people who use illicit drugs. May was the worst month on record for fatal overdoses since the crisis began more than four years ago. The 170 deaths in May rose above the previous record of 160 deaths, set in December 2016.

READ MORE: B.C. records highest ever number of fatal overdoses in May with 170 deaths

Hardy knew he couldn’t provide an in-person buddy for every person using drugs, but realized that he could dial one in.

“Everybody has a cellphone,” he said.

“The key was to be able to get emergency responders to anybody that would need it if they were in trouble because they were alone when they overdosed.”

Enter Lifeguard. The Vancouver-based app is available for free for both Apple iOS and Android devices and uses GPS tracking to bring an ambulance to a user who is overdosing.

To set it up, Hardy says, you just enter your first and last name and your phone number, which allows the app to verify your identity. Then, just before a person begins to use, they will load up the app and enter which drug they’re using. That, Hardy said, helps first responders tailor the help they provide. The user must then confirm their GPS location and provide any other location details – say if they’re in a bathroom or other specific location – and then press start.

This kickstarts a one-minute timer, which users can snooze if they need more time.

“The majority of overdoses happen pretty quick,” Hardy said. That’s especially true for fentanyl, which preliminary government data shows was present in 70 per cent of fatal overdoses in May.

When there is just 10 seconds left, an alarm will begin to ring, getting progressively louder. If the user doesn’t tap the red stop button, B.C. Emergency Health Services will be alerted – but the police won’t be.

“This is not a tool to give information to the police, or anybody who’s going to try and force the law on you,” Hardy said.

That aspect was crucial to Hardy.

“It’s anonymous. This isn’t one of those things that [police] are a part of.”

Information, he added, is only shared with BCEHS in the event that a person overdoses and an ambulance is dispatched.

The alarm set off by the timer will continue to ring until emergency services arrive and are able to administer naloxone or provide any other medical help.

“Hopefully, somebody will hear you and come and try and help you before the ambulance even gets there.”

But keeping someone alive is just the first step. The app can also connect user to a crisis line that is answered 24/7.

“It’s important that somebody answers quickly,” Hardy said.

“If you’re somebody that wants to get into drug and alcohol counselling… or any type of treatment, whatever it is you need – that’s where the whole process starts.”

The app, which launched in May, has been used more than 1,000 times by 600 people.

Hardy worked with the Provincial Health Authority, BCEHS and other provincial bodies to test and pilot the app in “controlled environments.”

“More and more people are starting to download it. It’s becoming a habit [to use the app],” Hardy said. The feedback from initial testing in Vancouver Downtown Eastside showed the app made people more aware of how many times they used drugs, he added.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from all walks of life.”

READ MORE: Wife of yogi who overdosed asks B.C.’s top doc to announce drug deaths like COVID fatalities


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

B.C. overdosesoverdose

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

Fraser Valley Regional District offices on Cheam Avenue in Chilliwack. (Paul Henderson/The Progress)
Pandemic has shifted the way FVRD runs its public question period

The 7 p.m. FVRD Board meeting on October 27, is to be conducted both in-person, and through Zoom

Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness watches the results on election night. The ex-Liberal’s tumultuous campaign and the narrow margin for victory ahead of the mail-in ballot count leaves the future of the riding’s seat in limbo for at least the next week. (Facebook/Laurie Throness)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Future for incumbent Throness uncertain as riding awaits results

Chilliwack-Kent candidate hopeful, resigned waiting on final count

The chair and vice chair of Chilliwack’s School Board, Dan Coulter and Willow Reichelt, at a Jan. 29, 2019 meeting. (Sarah Gawdin/ Chilliwack Progress)
Coulter confirms plan to resign from Chilliwack school board if elected

Dan Coulter says ‘it’s a little early’ to call the election, as mail-in votes wait to be counted

Two schools in Chilliwack have sent out notices to parents or been listed on the Fraser Health school exposure event website in the past week. (Pixabay)
Two Chilliwack schools send letters out regarding potential COVID-19 exposures

One public and one private school reporting mid-October exposure events

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

Graphic on promo material for Best Buy Canada’s Tech Wonderland event.
Drive-through ‘Tech Wonderland’ coming to PNE site a few weeks before Christmas

Best Buy Canada-backed ‘holiday’ event to raise money for charity

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of seven-year-old in Langley was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (B.C. government photo)
Unnamed school in Fraser Health region closed due to COVID-19

Closure announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry during daily briefing

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Most Read