Addiction counselor create app to fight drug overdoses

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — A former heroin user who is now an addiction counselor in suburban Chicago has created a smartphone app that aims to prevent drug overdoses.

Lucien Izraylov, 41, has created the Harmredux app, which connects drug users with trained volunteers who will carry overdose-reversing medication to make sure they survive drug use, The Chicago Tribune reported . The app is available for iPhones and Androids.

The app is free and users can be anonymous, though it’s yet to have its first user, said Izraylov, who runs an addiction and mental health counseling service.

“Not everyone will use it, but it’s nice to have an option,” he said. “It’s a foolproof way to stay alive.”

There were more than 1,300 drug overdoses in Cook County in 2018, with the majority connected to opioids. The number could rise as additional autopsies are completed.

Volunteers don’t help people acquire or use drugs, which allows volunteers to be covered legally, said Izraylov. Volunteers can also make referrals if users are seeking treatment.

“It’s strictly to stay there and make sure they don’t die,” he said. “Just to be within eyesight. If (an overdose) happens, we intervene.”

Non-doctors can administer naloxone in emergencies without risk of civil or criminal liability, according to state law. But Chicago defense attorney Shay Allen still cautioned volunteers, noting that volunteers may be at risk since they’re arranging beforehand to witness drug use.

“It could put the volunteers in a precarious legal situation,” he said.

The app is the latest in a harm reduction approach, which aims to keep drug users alive and healthy instead of pushing for abstinence. The philosophy is also a main driver behind needle exchanges and easily attainable overdose-reversing medication.

“I think we need as much as we can out there to keep people alive so they can recover,” Izraylov said.

The app will likely be helpful, said Vilmarie Narloch of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nonprofit that focuses on reforming drug policy.

“I think that if the app is successful, and people feel they can trust it, it’ll be a way for people to be there when (heroin users) otherwise might be using alone,” she said.

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