With a little hard work and application: some more harm reduction apps

It seems my musings about smartphone applications and harm reduction in a previous article opened the doors for a bit of discussion about how the lumps of technology that many of us carry around with us every day, can be applied to harm reduction.  Over the last few weeks I have spoken to some really passionate harm reduction peeps that have had some great ideas about smart phone applications that could potentially help to reduce drug related harms.

It prompted me to think about how else we can use mobile technology to address some common issues associated with alcohol and other drug use.  So here are two more smart phone apps I wish somebody would build.

Syringe Disposal App

Inappropriate disposal of injecting equipment poses a potential health risk to community (though arguably a small one), while also eliciting a high level of concern among many community members.  Empowering members of our communities to address the issue of inappropriately disposed equipment therefore needs to be a core part of harm reduction services.  In many jurisdictions proactive teams respond to call outs from the public to remove equipment that has been discarded in public spaces.  There are two potential barriers to the effective undertaking of this activity however:

  1. Often the information that retrieval teams receive is unclear (ever tried to find a discarded needle in several acres of a park, sometimes needle in a haystack comes to mind)
  2. People often locate discarded equipment as they are going about their day.  How many are going to be willing to take the time out of their day to contact their local Needle Syringe Program  and explain where the equipment is located? My guess is not many.

These barriers aside, it is also incumbent on harm reduction workers to educate members of the public about how to suitably and safely retrieve discarded injecting equipment and dispose of it correctly.  So how could a smart phone app help?

The Concept

Similar to the NSP Locator app described in my previous article, the Syringe Disposal app utilises the geo location functions of the phone, but also combines this with the utility offered by an integrated camera that is a normal feature of today’s generation of mobile phones.  The design concept for the syringe disposal application is detailed in the slideshow below.

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The syringe disposal app provides increased efficiency for both syringe retrieval teams and members of the public reporting inappropriately discarded equipment.  Furthermore the app offers the opportunistic dissemination of education to the public  about how to handle and dispose of non sterile equipment in a safe and appropriate way.  As phone apps go, I don’t know that there is a huge market for this one after all there needs to be a motivator for people to download the application in the first place.  It may however be a useful resource disseminated to people who are motivated to take action due to their proximity to locations that experience a high number of inappropriate disposals.

Peer Naloxone Training App

The welcome emergence of peer naloxone programs in a number of locations across the world (including two potential pilot programs to commence in Australia that I am aware of ) necessitates training of peers in the administration of naloxone to individuals experiencing an opiate overdose.  The concept of the peer naloxone training app is to provide a tool for refresher training as well as a valuable resource that can supply the peer with guidance in the advent of them having to administer naloxone to somebody.

The slideshow above outlines the key details of the concept.The chief advantage of an app of this nature is its mobility, it is in a sense the 21st century equivalent of the emergency card providing prompts to the user, reminding them what to do in the case of an emergency.

So there you have it, two apps that have the potential to support responses to drug related harm, improving the efficiency and efficacy of existing harm reduction services.  The challenge now is to develop them.

6 Responses to “With a little hard work and application: some more harm reduction apps”
  1. I particularly like the syringe disposal app which I think would be a great community engagement tool for parents living on an estate where needles are frequently dumped. It gives them a practical solution, takes away feelings of powerlessness and provides evidence of numbers of syringes so that an appropriate response can be put in place. My experience of work in this area is that sometimes when local people talk about “hundreds of syringes”, they are referring to just that. On other occasions, there is one syringe that is talked about hundreds of times. This app would allow action to be taken if and when needed.
    As you know, a version of the naloxone training app is in prototype at the moment in Northern Ireland.
    Keep coming up with the ideas, Matt. My sense is once a couple are produced, then more will quickly follow.

  2. stonetreeaus says:

    Hi Russell,

    Thanks for your comments. I have to agree that while syringe disposal is important, the chief issue is community empowerment and education that placates community concerns, and provides a realistic picture of the issues pertaining to inappropriate syringe disposal (including how much litter actually exists). My experience is that inappropriately disposed of litter can be a catalyst for public outcry against harm reduction programs (primarily NSPs). Anything that can engage the community and demonstrate that we will work with them while maintaining the services that can help to save lives remains important. In regards to the naloxone app, I wasn’t aware of the Northern Ireland development, but would love to know more about the concept. I am not surprised that someone else has been working on the concept. There seems to be a lot off interest in smartphone applications in general. Unfortunately many of the AOD apps I have seen up to this point have limited utility (more like static websites) and even less uptake. To my mind a successful app needs to either meet a currently unmet need or improve efficiency /outcomes in meeting a specific need. To my mind the Naloxone coach app falls into the second criteria. We can already provide training to peer naloxone providers in face to face settings, the app however means that people can refresh their training at any time as well as receive added supports in an overdose situation.

    To any others that might be reading this I would also direct you to Russell’ blog article about smartphone apps too: http://www.russellwebster.com/Blog/?p=447

    I welcome further discussions and ideas about how we can use smart phone technology to support Harm Reduction

    Cheers Matt

  3. More great ideas Matt! Maybe we can create a whole suite of them 🙂

  4. stonetreeaus says:

    That would be nice. Looking around in the Apple apps store showed an absolute scarcity of tools that would support harm reduction, beyond static drug information sites. The more I have gotten into this the more I have found people from across the planet who have had similar ideas. I think the challenge will be making the concepts into reality. In other words, so far I think I’ve done the easy bit 😉

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] With a little hard work and application: some more harm reduction apps It seems my musings about smartphone applications and harm reduction in a previous article opened the doors for a bit of discussion about how the lumps of technology that many of us carry around wi… Source: stonetreeaus.wordpress.com […]

  2. […] October 2011 I wrote an article listing some harm reduction smartphone applications that I would love to see produced.  Included in […]

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