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

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Students, volunteers remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

Day-long project a collaboration between city, Lower Mainland Green Team

Labour Minister Harry Bains addressing Surrey Board of Trade digital meeting Friday. (Screen shot)
Labour Minister says Surrey businesses’ resilience through pandemic ‘impressive’

‘Surrey’s effort in bending the curve has been among the best,’ Harry Bains says

Raj Singh Toor (left) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudea after an official apology for the treatment of Komagata Maru passengers in 1914. (Contributed photo)
Request made for City of White Rock to honour Komagata Maru passengers

Raj Singh Toor confident city will rename ‘street, park or city asset’ in honour of 1914 tragedy

A memorial to Hudson Brooks grew quickly outside the South Surrey RCMP detachment following his July 2015 death at the hands of police. (File photo)
Inquest yields ‘sliver of justice’ for South Surrey’s Hudson Brooks: brother

Beau Brooks says he’s not optimistic call for increased RCMP training will bear fruit

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Most Read