Panic button helping to save lives amid overdose crisis, says Vancouver company
VANCOUVER -- With British Columbia in the midst of an overdose crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a Vancouver company has developed a new device to help save the lives of people using drugs while self-isolating.
"The toxicity of drug supply is extreme, and I implore anyone who may be using drugs to not do it alone," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in August, after the BC Coroners Service announced 175 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths had occurred in July.
The Brave Button allows people taking drugs alone in their homes to have some form of supervision, according to Gordon Casey, CEO of Brave Technology, which developed the device.
It's a small button designed for use in supportive housing buildings, and it can be stuck pretty much anywhere.
"It sends a Bluetooth message to a little Bluetooth router that we've set up in each building," Casey said.
When the button is pressed, it sends a text message to building staff indicating that the resident is about to use drugs.
Building staff then know what's happening, and can go knock on the person’s door a minute or two after receiving the message.
"It's non-intrusive," said Shawna Blomskog, project manager for Brave Technology. "They don't have to open the door. They don't have to see anyone. All we want to hear is, 'I'm OK. I'm fine.'"
More than 900 people have died from overdoses in B.C. this year, but none of those deaths have been reported at supervised consumption sites. Given the toxicity of the province's drug supply, it's safer for people to use drugs while supervised, so that if they overdose someone can call for help.
So far, a pilot project in two Vancouver buildings has exceeded all expectations, according to Casey.
"Not only has it helped reduce the number of overdoses, including one just this week, but it’s connected people in the building with all the kind(s) of support that they’re looking for," the CEO said.
Residents in the buildings with the pilot projects have also used their buttons to call for help in other dangerous situations, such as fights between tenants or overdoses that have already begun without the button being pressed, Blomskog said.
The company is now tripling the number of buttons in use to more than 100, in hopes of saving more lives.
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Nafeesa Karim