Harm reduction advocates say tech offers new ways to make drug use safer

Click to play video: 'Sask. harm reductions advocates pitch more options to make drug use safer' Sask. harm reductions advocates pitch more options to make drug use safer
WATCH: Global News spoke to Saskatchewan harm reduction advocates about options beyond overdose prevention sites that could make drug use safer. – Mar 6, 2021

As a Regina organization prepares to host Saskatchewan’s second overdose prevention site, harm reduction advocates say technology is offering ways to make drug use safer in parts of the province that have no physical access to supervised consumption.

“We’ve gotten so used to face-to-face interactions, but with the advent of applications, there’s also technologies that go with them,” said Moms Stop the Harm Saskatchewan Advocate Marie Agioritis.

In British Columbia, where 165 overdose deaths were reported this past January alone, there are several ways in which technology is being used in harm reduction.

Read more: Regina Friendship Centre receives preliminary approval to open overdose prevention site

In 2017, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority launched the Real-time Drug Alert & Response (RADAR) project.

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Drug users can report bad drugs, with information attached such as purchase location, physical description and pictures.

Those details are relayed to Health Authority staff, who then promptly send out a text notification containing the information.

Anyone who is signed up will then receive a text warning them that dangerous or contaminated drugs are on the street.

The idea is to get the word out as quickly as possible by replacing a process that might typically take weeks and involve relayed communication between emergency services, police or coroners and community-based organizations.

Read more: Former staff, residents call for removal of managers at Street Workers Advocacy Project

Another home-grown harm reduction solution being used in British Columbia is the BeSafe App, developed by Brave Technology Co-op.

According to the company website, the app lets people who use drugs “call” community members who have volunteered to remotely monitor that drug use.

The drug user, or “caller,” creates their own “game plan” for when they plan to use dangerous drugs. That is, the user will make it known when and where they’re going to be using and fills the app with information on who to call if they become unresponsive, be it emergency services or a close contact.

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If at any point the person on the supporting side of the experience thinks an overdose may be occurring, they can request access to the user’s “game plan.” If the user is unable to respond to that request in the app within 20 seconds, the “game plan” information is released to the supporter who can then coordinate help.

“It’s like a technological safe consumption site, really,” said Agioritis.

Brave Technology Co-op has also created a button, designed primarily for supportive housing facilities, that can be installed anywhere and pressed to notify building staff that an emergency may be occurring.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service reported 65 confirmed or suspected overdose deaths in the first two months of 2021.

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