NORTHERN ONTARIO–As the opioid death rate continues to rise in Northern Ontario, medical students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) have created an innovative app that improves access to Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose.
Jordan Law, MacKenzie Ludgate and Owen Montpellier have developed the Naloxone North app, a free and confidential service that ships a Naloxone kit right to your door. The Naloxone North app includes educational information about the drug as well as a detailed instructional video and approved information about the safe administration of Naloxone.
“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,” says Mackenzie Ludgate, fourth-year medical student at NOSM and a pharmacist.
“This 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,” adds Owen Montpellier, another fourth-year medical student who worked on the app.
“The Naloxone North app also provides improved access for those living in remote, isolated or rural communities in Northern Ontario,” says Jordan Law, another fourth-year medical student and pharmacist who worked on the app. “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 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 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early stages of the pandemic, NOSM faculty worked quickly to introduce a new curriculum that focused on building advocacy leadership skills at a time when students were not able to work on the frontlines.
Dr. Marion Maar, associate professor of medical anthropology and faculty advisor on the project, says, “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’m proud of the innovative ideas that NOSM 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.”
A NOSM research team has received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to study recovery in the opioid crisis in Northern Ontario. They will leverage their work to support 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 would like to thank Dr. Nicholas Fortino, emergency physician at Health Sciences North, for his guidance with the app.
Dr. David Marsh, associate dean of research, innovation and international relations at NOSM commends the students’ innovation. “They’ve developed a tangible solution to support opioid safety at a critical time in history. It’s an example of the many critical advocacy and social justice projects happening at NOSM to address health-care inequities that have become more and more pronounced by this ongoing pandemic.”
Statistics from Public Health Ontario show the opioid-related death rates in many parts of Northern Ontario are significantly higher than the numbers being reported in other parts of Ontario.
The free Naloxone North app is now available for both Android and iPhone. Learn more at naloxonenorth.ca.