Public Health Experts Say Apps Could Help Fight Opioid Addiction

Dec 8, 2016

An app being developed by Jarus Health Technologies aims to help opioid users who overdose and may need Naloxone.
Credit Jarus Health Technologies

Public health organizations are increasingly considering how they can use technology to battle the opioid epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives in southwestern Pennsylvania in recent years.

Health care experts, students, investors and entrepreneurs will gather Thursday evening to discuss the opioid epidemic and develop collective solutions utilizing technology.

“The resources we have are only going to stretch so far,” said Jan Pringle, director of the Program Evaluation and Resource Unit at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy. “In terms of providing treatment and interventional services and prevention, as well as all the other things that are necessary in a community do simultaneously to reduce the rates of addiction and … overdose.”

The primary way to stretch those resources, said Pringle, is through the use of mobile apps. Pringle said apps can provide tips and coping strategies for people in recovery, help connect drug users with treatment options and give family and friends ideas about how to support a loved one struggling with addiction.

“All of this can be done through a health care IT, so you’re not having to send individuals out, so that they’re not doing face to face all the time,” said Pringle. “They’re only doing it when individuals are most in need, when they’re in crisis, when they’re starting to enter into crisis.”

Venkat Narayanan, CEO of Jarus Health Technologies, is working on an app that connects opioid drug users with people trained to administer the anti-overdose drug Naloxone. He said such an approach is especially suited to reaching millennials.

“They prefer technology and leveraging a mobile technology to be able to communicate right away,” he said. “They tend to feel more comfortable doing that than talking to someone.”

Narayanan, said there are still some kinks to work out with the app. For example, someone would have to know they are about to pass out and potentially overdose and be able to ask for help through the app in a limited time window.

“We’ll have to address that,” he said.

Thursday’s discussion is part of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s Health 2.0 Pittsburgh series, which seeks to explore technology-based solutions to health care problems.