A flying start

ddn article on nalofly's new naloxone app‘When I phone an ambulance, if I say “heart attack” I can get one out in four minutes,’ says Derek Monaghan. ‘If I say “overdose” I could be waiting an hour.’

Monaghan works for ScotRail at Glasgow Central station, where there are ‘quite a large number of overdoses and suspected overdoses’, he says. This is what gave him the idea for NaloFly, a new app designed to enable peer-to-peer delivery of naloxone when needed. 

The app enables people to get hold of naloxone by alerting a registered responder – someone nearby who’s carrying it. ‘I talk to people who carry naloxone and are trained in it but say they hardly ever use it – because they don’t know there’s an overdose happening,’ he says. ‘You’re carrying it for a reason – you want to save a life – so now there’s an app to alert you if someone is having an overdose in the vicinity.’ 

nalxone app from naloflyMonaghan developed the app, while the tech side is handled by Lewis Gianello, a physics student at Glasgow University. The two originally met when they partnered on a proposal for a suicide prevention app, and are using some of the same principles for NaloFly. ‘If someone presses that button we’re alerting the people who carry it to say “you’re nearest”. And when someone calls for help it automatically contacts 999 as well,’ says Monaghan. In the event of a suspected overdose, the app will choose the nearest live carrier who will receive an alert to say help is needed. When they accept they’re instructed by GPS to make their way by foot, bike or vehicle. 

nalofly video on naloxoneDevelopment began in 2020, and while the Scottish Government has been supportive there’s so far been no official funding. ‘We’d love to get some investment so we’re looking to the private sector to develop the next stages,’ says Monaghan. ‘There are about three or four phases in all, but we need to build a team to make that happen.’ 

An Android version was successfully trialled in Glasgow and provided invaluable feedback, says Monaghan, with ‘medical staff, people in the street teams telling us what they liked and didn’t like.’ 

One subject of early discussion was the option to call either an ambulance or a responder – ‘ambulance staff were saying “call us first” but other people said we could get responders there faster. It was 50-50 on it, so we decided we’d go with calling an ambulance and a responder at the exact same time, which means we’ve got a better chance of saving someone’s life before the emergency services turn up.’ 

nalofly naloxone appThere are two sides to the app – the recently launched carrier side, and the forthcoming public side. Naloxone carriers can download the app from a web link or QR code designated for carriers only – once they sign up they’ll be live, but with the option to turn off the app if they’re not available. After the carrier side has been up and running for a while the next stage will be a version for the public. ‘For every thousand members of the public who have it, we want 5,000 carriers,’ Monaghan states. ‘We want everybody in the UK who carries naloxone to download the app so when we go to the public we’re ready. We didn’t launch them at the same time because we wouldn’t want somebody pressing the help button and there’s no carriers in the area.’

So were there any issues of responders being uneasy about giving away their location? ‘We didn’t have any complaints about that,’ says Gianello. ‘I think people understand that we need to know their location if this is going to work – if I don’t know where you are I could be contacting you in London to come to Glasgow. We also let them delete all their data if they want to, so I can’t see any problems with that.’

‘Most smartphone apps will ask for GPS location permission,’ adds Monaghan. ‘But it will only be when using the app, so we won’t have people thinking they’ll be tracked.’

So how many downloads are they aiming for? ‘As many as possible, but if five people download it and a life is saved, then bingo,’ he says. ‘Someone presses that button and the responder says “that’s me”, and goes to save a life.’  DDN

Register as a carrier and download the app at www.butterflyeffect.dev 




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