An app aimed at preventing overdoses among those using opioids alone is now available provincewide after a trial run in several Alberta communities.
The Digital Overdose Response System (DORS) app has saved lives, Mike Ellis, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said Wednesday.
Those who use the free app receive a call from the STARS emergency centre if they become unresponsive to a timer. If an overdose is suspected, STARS dispatches emergency medical services to the person’s location. A person’s telephone number and location are the only pieces of information used by responders.
DORS was first launched in Calgary in August 2021 to test the technology as a tool to combat a high number of overdose deaths. The provincial government has phased in its use across the province and is working with First Nations and Métis leadership to possibly extend the app to Indigenous communities.
“We’ve seen great success with this system. To date, DORS has seen over 900 downloads, over 440 registered users, hundreds of unique sessions and numerous successful emergency medical services dispatches,” Ellis said during a news conference at the STARS Emergency Link Centre in Calgary.
According to Ellis, about 70 per cent of opioid-related deaths in Alberta take place in people’s homes, often while they are alone.
The latest provincial numbers show that Alberta recorded a total of 285 apparent opioid-related deaths in February and March. According to the province’s Substance Use Surveillance System, which tracks drug poisoning deaths, there were 168 deaths in February and 121 in March.
There are 1,807 Albertans who died of drug poisoning in 2021. Of those, 1,623 were an apparent opioid poisoning.
The deaths reported in March are the lowest recorded since April 2021, however, harm reduction advocates note the monthly death tolls remain above pre-pandemic levels.
Over the summer, the Alberta government will launch an ad campaign to spread awareness about DORS.
“We’re going to ensure that the people of Alberta and those who are using at home alone are aware that this app is available,” said Ellis.
STARS Air Ambulance COO Mike Lamacchia said expanding the app’s reach to the entire province means more people will be saved.
“As we all know, sometimes when emergency response happens to a drug-related call at a private residence, it can be too late. To date, the DORS app has helped to address that,” said Lamacchia.
Chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck said EMS crews see the effects of the opioid crisis every day.
“While you are using alone, this app will be your buddy,” said Sandbeck.
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said in a news release that overdoses have killed far too many people in Red Deer.
“DORS is an innovative program that can and will save lives,” said Johnston. “We are grateful to the Government of Alberta for making this available to our community, and I encourage anyone who may be using alone to download the app, and seek recovery when possible.”
Albertans experiencing addiction and opioid use can access treatment through the province’s Virtual Opioid Dependency Program by calling 1-844-383-7688 or visiting VODP.ca.
— With files from Anna Junker