LifeGuard app will alert B.C. ambulance; RCMP will not be notified. (LifeGuard website photo)

Lifeguard app launched to prevent drug overdoses

The province-backed app to notify first responders if things go wrong

A new app aimed towards those who are most at risk of overdose death— who use alone and who don’t have a support system, has been launched by the province and is being added to the Overdose Emergency Response Centre’s response plan.

The LifeGuard app was first launched in B.C. on May 19 and has since been launched throughout the province in phases. Island Health was the first to see the app live on May 19, next was Interior Health on May 25, after which it came to Vancouver Coastal Health on June 1, Fraser Health on June 8 and now it has finally come to Northern Health (NH) as of June 15.

Spokesperson for NH, Andrea Palmer said, “Northern Health is very much in support of this new ‘tool’ in the toolbox of support for those in danger or overdose.”

The app will have users activate it before taking drugs and keep a tab on the users by being a virtual presence in case of emergencies. The user has to activate the app before taking their dose. The app will then sound an alarm in 50 seconds which the user should be turning off. In case the user fails to turn off the alarm, the alarm will keep getting louder and after 75 seconds, a text-to-voice call would go straight to B.C. ambulance’s main reception alerting officials of a possible overdose.

Jeff Hardy, the founder and CEO of the LifeGuard app emphasized in an interview with the Black Press on the app’s response that goes out to the B.C. ambulances and fire fighters.

“The only people who will show up at your door will be the ambulance and the fire fighters — no RCMP. They don’t even know about the call; they are not alerted about it,” he said, adding that even though he respects the RCMP, he also believes that this kind of a response is about saving lives and not about arresting anyone.

“You don’t have to be worried about getting arrested or any of those things. This app is specifically there to save your lives and connect you to the community.”

The government permitted Hardy to beta test the app for almost a year and a half after which when the pandemic hit and the overdose numbers started climbing up, they decided that “it was time to bring LifeGuard in and get it in to the hands of people who need it.”

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Judy Darcy said in a press release that the launch of the resource was extremely timely and it would be a direct link for people to emergency responders in case of an overdose.

“As we face down two public health emergencies – the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic – we must ensure that people who use drugs have the resources they need, when and where they need them,” she said, adding that since a large majority of people who used drugs were using them alone in shelters, hotels, or at home, the Lifeguard App would prove to be a good companion.

Hardy, who was himself struggling from alcohol addiction at one point in his life, came up with the idea for this app in response to losing a close friend to drug overdose.

“The app was built through life and experience to effectively help reduce some of the harm caused by the overdose crisis. Most people who use the app are the ones who don’t want to die and the app serves as a buddy or an insurance system,” explained Hardy.

In fact, on May 31, the app saved the life of a woman living in government housing. “She had set the LifeGuard app to alert her but when she didn’t respond, the app alarm went off and alerted the B.C. ambulance, who showed up in four and a half minutes, revived her, brought her to the hospital, and brought her back home. It was pretty powerful,” said Hardy.

The app has already been downloaded by 600 users and has been used 1500 times. Although Hardy is encouraging people to use the app, he still wants people who use drugs do so with a friend and to use overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites where they are available. The LifeGuard application platform also has different connections and mental health resources. “You don’t have to just use it for the opioid usage; you can use it for 8-1-1, 9-1-1, suicide line, crisis line, counseling line, you can access all that stuff,” said Hardy.

The Lifeguard app can be downloaded for free from both the App Store and Google Play Store.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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