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Vancouver co-op develops tech to help prevent ODs, especially for alone users


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VANCOUVER — A Vancouver technology co-operative is gaining recognition for developing a mobile app and three other digital monitoring tools aimed at preventing overdoses, especially among drug users who are dying alone.

Brave Technology is the only Canadian participant among 12 companies awarded $200,000 in the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, and they are all now vying for a $1-million grant to come up with technical solutions to address the overdose crisis.

Oona Krieg, chief operating officer for Brave, said people would log on to the Be Safe app before using their drugs to connect with trained volunteer responders ready to step in with the overdose-reversing medication naloxone or call an ambulance.

“You’re connected to a community responder who will stay on the phone with you,” she said, adding a user would be asked a series of questions, including which drug they believe they’ll be using.

The next phase of testing the app, which has been in development for a year, is expected to begin in Vancouver next month.

Krieg said Be Safe, like the other tools under development, is intended to act as a form of digital supervision for people who use drugs alone and would never go to supervised consumption sites.

“The idea is to end the isolation and to be able to respond to an overdose quicker than somebody else calling 911,” she said, adding the app would also enable people to make connections with responders and get information on clean needles, wound care, or a referral to treatment if the user is ready to take that step.

Another app being developed would allow members of the community to register to be trained as responders.

Krieg said families of people who have died, those who have survived an overdose, and citizens looking for ways to get involved in dealing with the opioid crisis are stepping up to take action.

“One of the first things that can end the isolation is community-member response,” she said.

The BC Coroners Service said 88 per cent of the 878 overdose deaths between January and July occurred indoors, among people who used alone or were with someone who was unwilling or unable to call 911.

Brave is also developing an internet-enabled “button” that would be installed in rooms of supported housing complexes, for example, so drug users can press it to connect with trained staff in the building, Krieg said.

“The whole premise is you press the button when you’re about to use and within three to five minutes someone comes and checks on you.”

An 11-day pilot project involved mounting the buttons in 17 rooms of a supported housing complex in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Krieg said.

“The results were that people were pressing the buttons when using, and three overdoses were reversed. For the other 68 per cent of people who’d used the button, there was no need for a reversal but people were checked on.”

Three more pilots in Vancouver are slated to begin in November, she said.

A prototype for a fourth tool, called an Odetect, is about a year from development and could be a wearable device such as a nose ring that may measure respiration and oxygen levels and transmit that information to responders who could take action, Krieg said.

Hugh Lampkin, vice-president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, said any technology designed to prevent overdoses would be an asset for people who are hiding their addiction.

“There’s so much shame associated with using drugs that they use alone because they don’t want their boss, their spouse, their family or their neighbours to know what they’re doing,” he said.

Dr. Keith Ahamad, an addictions specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital, said there’s an urgent need for technology-driven intervention where a “gaping hole” currently exists.

“One thing we’ve had a really hard time doing is figuring out how to get to people who are using alone. It’s very complicated, including things like stigma and being in recovery,” said Ahamad, who is also a clinical researcher at the BC Centre for Substance Use and spent seven years working as a computer engineer.

“We’ve got overdose prevention sites and take-home naloxone but for people who are dying alone we need something innovative.”

Ahamad said biomedical engineering faculties at universities across North America are showing interest in developing technology to respond to an alarming number of overdose deaths and there’s a need for groups like Brave to partner with them to evaluate digital tools that could be “mind blowing.”

“People who are hiding away in their rooms by themselves could put a device on that could potentially be linked via Bluetooth to your cellphone that could phone 911, text a friend, use GPS.”

— Follow @Camillebains1 on Twitter.




Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Oona in para 3.

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Province trumpets $105 million in new health spending for Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program

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Strengthening rural health care

Budget 2023 expands rural health supports so Albertans can have additional access to modern health facilities and the care they need where and when they need it.

Alberta’s government is committed to expanding and modernizing rural hospitals and other health facilities across the province to protect quality health care, grow system capacity and support the best front-line health care workers in the world.

Having access to quality health care when and where Albertans need it includes expanding capacity to provide better access for Albertans living in rural and remote areas of the province.

“We are making sure we have the necessary funding in place to build and strengthen health care in our rural communities and address barriers to care for those looking for support and treatment close to home and family. This work includes programs that focus on how to recruit, retain and even train more physicians, nurses and other professionals in areas outside of the cities.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

Budget 2023 provides $105 million over three years for the Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program, including $75 million in additional funding for capital projects in rural Alberta.

The program supports strategic renovations and developments in health facilities throughout the province, with an emphasis on emergency departments, EMS stations, surgical and dialysis clinics, and other clinical services to improve access to health care in rural Alberta.

Expanding capacity in the health care system also means having health care workers to fill those spots. In response, Alberta’s government launched the Health Workforce Strategy to attract and retain the health care workers needed now and create more training opportunities for local students and internationally trained medical graduates.

“All Albertans, no matter where they live, need and deserve access to our health system. Physicians are a critical part of that system, especially in rural areas where we are trusted to support the needs of neighbours, friends and colleagues during all phases of life. It is a special calling to work in rural health care, but it can be tremendously rewarding for those who pursue it.”

Dr. Cheyanne Vetter, facility medical director, Wainwright Health Centre

Rural Albertans are especially affected by the nationwide shortage of health care workers. To address this growing need, the Health Workforce Strategy provides $113 million to add 100 residency training spaces for newly graduated doctors, particularly in rural areas and specialist fields. Creating these new training spaces will provide more opportunities for Alberta students to learn, train and practise in their home communities.

In addition to this investment, a further $1 million will go toward exploring ways that regional post-secondary institutions, such as the University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic in Grande Prairie, can help deliver medical education outside of Edmonton and Calgary.

“Whether it’s emergency care or surgeries, primary care or continuing care, Albertans deserve equitable health care services in their communities. I am proud of the investments government is making through Budget 2023, both with infrastructure funding and workforce planning strategies, to help support the future of rural health care in our province.”

 Garth Rowswell, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright

This year’s budget also funds the new agreement with the Alberta Medical Association, further stabilizing the health system and focusing on Alberta’s rural communities. Under the agreement, more than $250 million over four years will go to addressing pressures, including recruitment and retention programs so more Albertans can access family doctors, and supporting physicians so their practices remain viable.

Budget 2023 secures Alberta’s future by transforming the health care system to meet people’s needs, supporting Albertans with the high cost of living, keeping our communities safe and driving the economy with more jobs, quality education and continued diversification.

Quick facts

  • The Rural Health Revitalization Program provides capital funding for revitalizing select rural health facilities throughout the province.
    • Budget 2023 invests $105 million over three years for the Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program. This includes $75 million in additional funding for new capital projects in rural Alberta.
    • To date, about $65 million has been committed to 22 projects across the province, including emergency department renovations, upgrades to EMS stations and new dialysis spaces.
  • An investment of $237 million over three years towards the Alberta Surgical Initiative Capital Program will help reduce surgical wait times and help Albertans receive the surgeries they need.
    • This includes $120 million in new funding for projects in 15 communities across the province to expand and modernize operating rooms in public hospitals.
  • Budget 2023 includes $64 million over three years to continue the La Crete Community Health Centre capital project to provide increased access to maternity health services.
  • $11 million over three years is part of a $23.5-million commitment to expand the renal dialysis program at the Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge.
    • This project will relocate the dialysis unit to provide additional treatment spaces and address patient and staff safety concerns with the current site.
  • $3 million over three years in planning dollars is committed to the North Calgary/Airdrie Regional Health Centre.
  • $3 million over three years in planning dollars is committed to expanding the Strathcona Community Hospital.
  • Planning dollars are also committed for new or upgraded facilities in Bassano, Cardston and Whitecourt.
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Budget 2023: Key highlights from the federal Liberals’ spending plan

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Copies of the Federal budget are seen on a table Tuesday, March 28, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

The federal Liberal government has released a 2023-24 spending plan that prioritizes spending on health care, transitioning Canadian businesses to a clean economy and offering affordability measures to help Canadians dealing with high prices from inflation.

Here are the key highlights from this year’s federal budget:

– $40.1 billion: Projected federal deficit for the coming fiscal year.

– $59.5 billion: New spending over the next five years, with $8.3 billion to be spent over the coming fiscal year.

– $83 billion: The expected cost of tax credits for clean energy and electricity through to the 2034-35 fiscal year. The credits are part of Ottawa’s stated goal to rapidly develop Canada’s green economy.

– $13 billion: Expected cost of the Canada dental benefit over the next five years, or $7.3 billion more than the government initially projected.

– $49.4 billion: The amount of health-care cash flowing to provinces and territories in the 2023-24 year.

– $4.5 billion: Expected cost of a clean technology manufacturing investment tax credit over five years.

– $2.5 billion: The cost of another one-time doubling of GST rebates this financial year to help low-income Canadians who are struggling with high prices and inflation. The government has dubbed this measure a “grocery rebate,” a nod to high food prices.

– $4 billion: How much the federal government says it plans to spend over seven years on an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy, beginning in 2024-25. But only $1.9 billion is expected to be spent in the next five years.

– An unknown amount: Finance officials would not specify how much Ottawa spent in an agreement with Volkswagen that will see the company build a battery manufacturing plant, called a “gigafactory,” in St. Thomas, Ont. They said more details will be revealed in the weeks to come. The budget document stipulates that the expected costs are accounted for in this year’s spending tables. Measures not yet announced have a line item in the budget that accounts for decisions related to commercial sensitivity, but the number is presented as an aggregate.

– $158 million: Funding over three years, starting this year, to create and operate a new 9-8-8 suicide prevention phone line.

– $14 per $100: What the federal government says will be the new maximum amount that payday lenders can charge people for the amount they borrow. The budget says a Criminal Code amendment will be made to that effect, while the government also intends to lower the maximum interest rates payday lenders can charge to an annual percentage rate of 35 per cent.

– “Reciprocal treatment”: What Ottawa is announcing consultations about in response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which threatens to freeze out Canadian businesses, including green technology firms, from tax credits offered south of the border.

– $56 million: Spending allocated for “protecting diaspora communities and all Canadians from foreign interference, threats and covert activities.” The budget announces funding for the RCMP to investigate foreign interference allegations, and says Public Safety Canada will stand up a new National Counter-Foreign Interference Office to respond to any attempted meddling by Russia, China and Iran.

– $200 million: The amount the government aims to provide to the Department of National Defence so the Canadian military can donate equipment to assist Ukraine, including the eight Leopard 2 battle tanks that the government previously announced it would deliver.

– Anti-scab legislation: The government is proposing to amend the Canada Labour Code to prohibit the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout, fulling a commitment the Liberals made to the federal NDP in their supply-and-confidence agreement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.

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