A team of Cal Poly students designs a web app to save lives threatened by opioid abuse

In San Luis Obispo County, the number of deaths from opioid overdoses more than doubled from 21 in 2019 to 55 in 2020.

In fact, fatal opioid overdoses have skyrocketed across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

One way to help save lives is the drug naloxone, which can be used to block the effects and restore normal breathing, if a person has overdosed.

A new web app, launched by the San Luis Obispo County Department of Behavioral Health this week, gives people access to opioid overdose response training and a free naloxone kit, delivered confidentially to their home.

Jenn Rhodes, coordinator of the SLO Opioid Safety Coalition, says this app empowers people to be ready, able and equipped to respond to an overdose event and enable them to save lives.

“Our county, along with many other counties across the state and nation, is experiencing many tragedies related to opioid overdose,” she told KCLU.

“One of the best ways we have to at least prevent overdose deaths is naloxone.

“By having this app available to everyone in the community in a really user-friendly way, we can reduce the stigma around it and also give the community the education and information they need to help save a life,” Rhodes said.

Opioid abuse is a complex issue. It affects a broad spectrum of society and affects all income and age groups, making prevention measures difficult to target and enforce. California had 5,502 opioid-related deaths in 2020.

According to the American Medical Association, the spike in deaths was likely due to the increased presence of fentanyl in illicit substances. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that looks like morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

To help save lives, naloxone can be used when an individual overdoses on opioids. It attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing in a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped due to an opioid overdose.

The web app allows people to access opioid overdose response training and a free naloxone kit, confidentially delivered to their doorstep.

The Naloxone Now app was designed with the help of the DxHub and a team of Cal Poly students.

Danielle Knell, student project officer, working on the Naloxone Now/SLO Opioid Safety Coalition

Paul Jurasin, director of DXHub, explains that the students tackled a complex problem.

“The work we do here at the Digital Transformation Hub is mostly done by students. We have a small professional staff,” he explained.

“The students are really the people who do most of the work…it’s really empowering and impactful,” he said.

Reilly Salkowski — a senior software engineer at Cal Poly — says it was worth putting her skills to good use in such a positive way.

“You get these projects in class that really aren’t going anywhere, so having the opportunity to work on a project that has real reach and potential impact in the same way the Naloxone Now app does is really amazing,” said Salkowski at KCLU.

“It’s amazing to know that something I’ve written can really make a difference,” she said.

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