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Hacking the National Opioid Epidemic: Diverse Solutions to a Complex Crisis

Deaths from opioid abuse are startlingly high across the nation. In Massachusetts alone, an estimated 500 residents have died of overdose this year, at least half of which were due to prescription opioids. In response to the crisis, CAMTech and Massachusetts General Hospital organized a three-day hackathon to foster collaboration among innovators intent on finding solutions to this major public health issue.

The hackathon, held earlier this month, was made possible by the support of the General Electric Foundation’s Global Health Program, which has allocated $15 million to improving community health around their Boston headquarters. Dr. David Barash, the program’s director and Chief Medical Officer, was present at the hackathon both as a judge and a coordinator for the group of mentors GE provided to assist the teams with their projects.

Addressing the opioid crisis is an immensely complicated challenge, requiring the expertise of healthcare professionals, designers, engineers, social outreach workers, and business professionals. All of the above were represented at the hackathon, as well as recovering opioid addicts and many others who have suffered personal loss because of opioid abuse.

One of those personally impacted by the crisis is Jeffrey Schantz, who lost his son Sammy to an overdose. Schantz’s team called itself “Angel Wings,” and as the name suggests, they worked to develop a product intended to act as a guardian angel for users at risk of overdosing.

Their product is a delivery method for prescription drugs that involves a smart tracking system on blister packaging to ensure patients remain on the proper dosage of prescribed opioids. The product also contains a syrette of Naxolone, a common antidote for opioid overdose. The syrette allows someone who thinks they may have overdosed to quickly and easily self-administer the antidote and alerts EMS to the victim’s location via a geo-locator.

“I couldn’t save my son,” Schantz explained while presenting his project before a panel of judges, but added his hope that his team’s project can save other sons and daughters in the future.

Another group, ReLive, designed a device resembling a smartwatch that can detect blood-oxygen levels in the wearer and automatically administer a Naloxone injection in the event of a sudden drop. Like Angel Wings, team ReLive is focusing their efforts on rapid overdose detection and response. Other teams focused on more preventative methods.

Ian and Kevin pose in front of hastily scribbled notes an hour before their presentation

Ian and Kevin pose in front of hastily scribbled notes an hour before their presentation

Kevin Woghiren, a General Electric employee, and his partner Ian Andrew created a text-based service called Ready Access Via SMS which allows opioid abusers to quickly and anonymously locate the nearest treatment or medical centers by typing in key words. For example, a user might type in “needle exchange” followed by their zip code to receive a text with information about the nearest needle exchange program. Judges acknowledged the importance of providing an anonymous avenue for opioid users to access help and information, and Ready Access Via SMS was one of five teams which received a $1,000 grant to help make their project a reality.

Another winning team, MATMobile, plans to implement medical vans— of the sort already in use providing services to the homeless— to act as mobile support centers for addicts in need of services ranging from clean needles to moral support. These vans would target areas where EMS data indicated the highest rates of overdoses, according to project member Aubri Esters. “We’re targeting people that are homeless and active drug users, and also people in treatment deserts, where recovery and treatment centers are not available,” she explained. The aid workers in the van would be able to connect opioid abusers to further medical treatment as well as support and counseling from former abusers and trusted community members.

The other three winners included Ally, a project designed to erase stigma and spread support via wearable naloxone containers, posters, and media projects; RxReturn, who have created a “smart pill box” that would help prevent minors from stumbling upon opiates after their prescribed term of use, and the 3rd Place, a community recovery center where opiate abusers can receive positive reinforcement in their fight for sobriety.

Samuel Anthony

Samuel Anthony

    Sam was born and raised in Villanova, PA and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He majored in diplomatic history and spent a lot of his time writing for the Pennsylvania Punch Bowl, a student-run satire magazine. Since graduating in May of 2016, he has helped to establish Tiger Hills Coffee Company with a friend, a company whose mission is to export premium Indian coffee to the United States. He enjoys humor writing, dogs, craft beer, and very loud music.

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