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Team of Cal Poly students designs web app to save lives threatened by opioid abuse

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Joe Johnson
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Cal Poly
The web app provides people with access to opioid overdose response training and a complimentary naloxone kit, confidentially delivered to their homes

Death rates from opioid overdoses have skyrocketed in recent years in San Luis Obispo County and beyond.

In San Luis Obispo County, the death toll from opioid overdoses more than doubled from 21 in 2019 to 55 in 2020.

In fact, fatal opioid overdoses have sky-rocketed across the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One way to help save lives is the drug naloxone, which can be used to block the effects and restore normal breathing, if a person has overdosed.

A new web app, launched by The County of San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health Dept. this week, provides people with access to opioid overdose response training and a complimentary naloxone kit, delivered confidentially to their home.

Jenn Rhodes, co-ordinator of the SLO Opioid Safety Coalition, says this app empowers people to be ready, able and equipped to respond to an overdose event and enable them to save lives.

"Our county along with many other counties across the state and across the nation is experiencing lots of tragedies around opioid overdose," she told KCLU.

"One of the best ways we have to at least prevent deaths from overdose is from naloxone.

"By having this application that is available to anyone in the community in a really user-friendly way, we can reduce the stigmas around it and also give the community the education and information they need to help save a life," said Rhodes.

Opioid abuse is a complex problem. It impacts a broad spectrum of society and cuts across income and age groups, making prevention measures hard to target and address. California experienced 5,502 opioid-related deaths in 2020.

According to the American Medical Association, the spike in deaths was likely due to the increased presence of fentanyl in illicit substances. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

To help save lives, naloxone can be used when an individual overdoses on opioids. It attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose.

The web app provides people with access to opioid overdose response training and a complimentary naloxone kit, confidentially delivered to their homes.

The Naloxone Now App was designed with help from the DxHub and a team of Cal Poly Students.

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Cal Poly
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Danielle Knell, student project manager, working on the Naloxone Now/SLO Opioid Safety Coalition

Paul Jurasin, the director of DXHub – says the students set about tackling a complex problem.

"The work that we do here at the Digital Transformation Hub is mainly by students. We have a small professional staff," he explained.

"The students are really the people who do most of the work...it's really empowering and impactful," he said.

Reilly Salkowski - a software engineering senior at Cal Poly – says it’s been worthwhile to put her skills to such positive use.

"You get these projects in class that don't really go anywhere, so getting the opportunity to work on a project that has real reach and potential impact in the way that the Naloxone Now app does is really incredible," Salkowski told KCLU.

"It's incredible to know that something that I wrote can really make a difference," she said.