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

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

BC CDC mapping for the week ending April 4, shows a sharp decrease in COVID-19 cases to 27 in Prince Rupert down 45 from the week prior. (Image: BCCDC)
Sharp decline in Prince Rupert COVID-19 cases

Prince Rupert lab-confirmed cases are down 62.5 per cent in one week

Blair Mirau, Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society CEO, is seen in a hydroponic greenhouse the society purchased in 2020 to promote food stability and local supply. (Photo: supplied)
Three P.R. organizations partner to develop food distribution network

$167,000 grant awarded to GSN, PRDCC and Ecotrust Canada to strengthen food supply chains

Food security and local production were topics at the April 12 public hearing to discuss new zoning bylaws and new OCP bylaws in Prince Rupert. A shipping container-style hydroponic growing unit in Whitehorse on July 26, 2020 is similar to one purchased by the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society for local food production. (Photo: Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Food security and local production were growing concerns at city held public hearing

No provision in new zoning bylaws and new OCP for urban agriculture zones in Prince Rupert

Members of Prince Rupert Rotary Club gave back to their community on April 15 by providing a facelift to the city's gateway at McClymont Park. (Photo: K-J Millar)
Acts of Kindness Day being honoured in Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert Rotary Club is encouraging acts of kindness all week long

A ball balances on the rim. New basketball court surfaces and nets will be installed as part of the McBride Street Multi-sport Court Redevelopment project to which Pembina donated $20,000. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Nothing but net for $20,000 Pembina donation

McBride Street multi-sport court redevelopment project in the planning

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read