5 Things About the FDA's Call for a Naloxone-Finding App

The FDA has announced a public competition to develop a mobile application that allows users to find the nearest location of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Here are 5 things to know about the 2016 Naloxone App Competition.

On the first day of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, the FDA announced a public competition to develop a mobile application that allows users to find the nearest location of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. The endeavor is a timely one as over 28,000 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2014—more than any year on record.

Here are 5 things to know about the 2016 Naloxone App Competition:

1. Naloxone is used to halt and reverse the effects of an opioid overdose

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is an antagonist drug that blocks opioid receptors in the brain, allowing the overdose victim to regain consciousness and resume breathing. It can be administered via injection or nasal spray to someone overdosing on any opioid, whether it be prescription (such as oxycodone or hydrocodone) or illicit (like heroin).

2. The drug is currently only available with a prescription, according to federal law

However, the FDA is collaborating with manufacturers to produce and test a non-prescription version, having recently developed the Drug Facts Label required to sell it over the counter. In the meantime, many states have passed laws that allow laypersons to procure naloxone from pharmacists without a prescription. Another legislative focus is the creation of “Good Samaritan” laws that would prevent lawsuits against those who administer naloxone in an attempt to save a life.

3. Every minute counts, so there’s a need to find the antidote quickly

When someone is experiencing a potentially fatal overdose, any tool that would let bystanders pinpoint the nearest location of the lifesaving drug would be immensely helpful.

“There’s not a minute to waste,” said associate FDA Commissioner Peter Lurie. He gave the example of a first responder who could use the app in an apartment building to discover that a resident down the hall happens to have a dose of naloxone in the medicine cabinet.

4. App’s target audience includes friends and family members of opioid users

The American Medical Association recommended that naloxone be prescribed to those at risk of an overdose after a survey revealed that 80% of physicians said it should be readily available to patients. However, if the opioid user does not have naloxone handy, this app would help friends, family, or bystanders locate it nearby.

Lurie explained that while apps have been created to “educate laypersons on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone,” no app has yet attempted to connect these rescuers with the actual drug.

5. FDA again seeks technology to help alleviate a public health crisis

The FDA sponsored a similar contest once before during the 2014 Salmonella outbreak. The developers of the winning technology that detected the bacteria in fresh produce won a $500,000 prize.

The 2016 Naloxone App Competition, which ends on November 7 and promises a grand prize of $40,000 to the top app developer, will feature a code-a-thon at the FDA campus on October 19-20. The FDA is also utilizing social media to boost awareness of the contest using the hashtag #NaloxoneApp.