FDA Launches Tech Competition To Help Stop Opioid Deaths


The Food and Drug Administration has launched a new technology competition aimed at stopping deaths related to opioid abuse. The FDA, with support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is inviting computer programmers, public health advocates, clinical researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators from all disciplines to create a mobile phone application that can connect opioid users experiencing an overdose with nearby carriers of the prescription drug naloxone – the antidote for an opioid overdose – thereby increasing the likelihood of timely administration and overdose reversal.

“With a dramatic increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., there’s a vital need to harness the power of new technologies to quickly and effectively link individuals experiencing an overdose – or a bystander such as a friend or family member – with someone who carries and can administer the life-saving medication,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D.

The FDA recently released an opioid action plan aimed at giving healthcare providers and others a framework for stopping the spread of opioid abuse. The FDA says this competition is the next step in its efforts to address opioid addiction.

The rate of opioid dependence and abuse has grown nationally as more people have been prescribed opioid medications to deal with health issues like chronic pain. Opioids have also spread in popularity as a street drug, which has increased the availability of these medications to individuals even when they don’t have a prescription.

According to SAMHSA, nearly two million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014. Additionally, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine and illicit opioids, such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl, have more than tripled since 1999 – with about 28,000 people dying in 2014 alone. The FDA contends that many of those deaths could have been prevented if people experiencing an overdose had immediately received naloxone to stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Naloxone is currently only available in the U.S. by prescription, but many states have taken steps to make it more readily accessible to first responders, community-based organizations and laypersons, including friends and family of opioid users. In fact, the number of laypersons provided naloxone nearly tripled between 2010 and 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA thinks that by creating new applications that make the locations of naloxone publicly available more people will be able to get the treatment they need.

Teams and individuals wishing to participate in the competition will have until Oct. 7, 2016 to register. On Oct. 19-20, 2016, the FDA will host a two-day code-a-thon on the FDA campus and virtually for registered entrants to develop their concepts and initial prototypes. All code will be made open-source and publicly accessible. A panel of judges from the FDA, NIDA, and SAMHSA will evaluate submissions and the highest-scoring entrant will receive an award of $40,000. Following the competition, entrants also may apply for NIDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants.