Northern Ontario medical students create an app

Students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine have created a smartphone app to improve access to Naloxone, the drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The idea of the Nalaxone North APP is to add a level of privacy for those who wish to get a Naloxone kit either for themselves or for individuals they know, who might be at risk for an overdose.

The new app has been developed by fourth-year students Jordan Law, MacKenzie Ludgate, and Owen Montpellier.

The application is a free and confidential service that can have a Naloxone kit delivered directly to someone’s preferred location.

Ludgate, who is also a pharmacist, said the pandemic has made the crisis worse.

“Opioid-related death rates in many parts of Northern Ontario are higher during this pandemic and significantly higher than the numbers being reported elsewhere in Ontario,” he said.

Montpellier adds the privacy aspect is one that might allow for more people to consider obtaining one of the life-saving kits, wherein other circumstances they might not have one.

He says the app offers privacy and access to people who want to have a Naloxone kit on-hand, but who are uncomfortable facing the stigma or fear associated with asking for one in person at a pharmacy or clinic.

Law, who is also a pharmacist and fourth-year student, said the new app could be a welcome thing for Northerners living in isolated areas.

“The Naloxone North app also provides improved access for those living in remote, isolated or rural communities in Northern Ontario,” explains Law.

“As long as you have an Ontario Health Card, you can order the kit through the app and request that it be shipped to your preferred location.”

The app is currently only available in English, but the group said it plans to launch it in French and Oji-Cree in the coming weeks. It also hopes to translate it into other Indigenous languages.

The NOSM news release said the students followed the guidelines of the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Naloxone Program to meet the applicable policy requirements for safe Naloxone administration, education, and distribution.

Advocacy-focused projects like Naloxone North were incorporated into NOSM’s fourth-year MD curriculum due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Marion Maar, Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology and faculty advisor on the project, commented that aside from the obvious life-saving benefit, the initiative should also provide valuable research.

“The app provides a simultaneous opportunity to conduct research that will determine whether it is an effective way to support opioid recovery in Northern Ontario. I am proud of the innovative ideas that students have implemented to address some of the longstanding issues in our region. During a difficult time of change, they embraced a new curriculum and are indeed making an impact.” says Dr. Marr.

Statistics from Public Health Ontario show opioid-related death rates in many parts of Northern Ontario are significantly higher than the numbers being reported in other parts of Ontario said the release and the school’s research team has also received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study recovery in the opioid crisis in Northern Ontario. They will leverage their work to support the ongoing development of the Naloxone North app and study its uptake in rural, Francophone, and Indigenous communities.

The research is being conducted in collaboration with First Nations and led by Drs. Marion Maar, Darrel Manitowabi, Lorrilee McGregor, and Diana Urajnik, in partnership with the medical students. The medical students also appreciate the guidance developing the app provided by Dr. Nicholas Fortino, an emergency physician at Health Sciences North, which is currently available for free for both Android and iPhone.

For more information and to access the app, go to: https://naloxonenorth.ca/

PHOTOS: The Naxalone North App created by fourth-year NOSM students Jordan Law, left, MacKenzie Ludgate, and Owen Montpellier. The three worked together to created the Naloxone North app. Photo provided by MacKenzie Ludgate

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