Developing and testing a mobile phone app to deliver naloxone to opioid overdose victims in Philadelphia

Stephen Lankenau, PhD1, David Schwartz, PhD2, Alexis Roth, PhD, MPH3, Gabriela Marcu, PhD4, Inbal Yahav, PhD2, Megan Reed, MPH1, Janna Ataiants, MA, MPA, DrPH1, Catalina Correa, MSc, Doctoral Research Fellow5, Rebecca Hosey1 and Dikla Tenenboim
(1)Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, (3)Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA, (4)University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, (5)Drexel University, PHILADELPHIA, PA

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Philadelphia has the highest drug overdose rate among any large city in the U.S. Community-based overdose prevention programs, whereby lay responders administer naloxone to victims during overdose events, has been one response to the overdose crisis in Philadelphia and elsewhere. We sought to develop and field test a mobile phone app called UnityPhilly to link lay responders carrying naloxone to individuals experiencing opioid overdose events in real time.


In 2019, 63 persons living/working in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia - 31 community members and 32 active opioid users were recruited as UnityPhilly responders and completed a survey on past/current drug use, downloaded UnityPhilly onto their cellphone, and received overdose prevention training/naloxone. Afterwards, responders complete monthly surveys and incident reports on use/non-use of UnityPhilly.


UnityPhilly responders were predominantly white (69.8%), male (49.2%), and averaged 36.5 years old. Most reported lifetime opioid misuse (69.8%) and/or medication-assisted treatment (50.8%). Between February-June 2019, 23 opioid overdose events were signaled using UnityPhilly, and one or more UnityPhilly responder arrived at the overdose location in 15 cases (65.2%). Among these 15 events, naloxone was administered to an overdose victim at 4 events. Across all 23 events, a total of 34 UnityPhilly responders (1.5 responder per event) arrived at the overdose location.


UnityPhilly is the first field-tested app in the U.S. to connect lay responders carrying naloxone. Equipped with UnityPhilly, community members and active opioid users were able to signal an overdose, respond to the event, and deliver/administer naloxone to an overdose victim.

Chronic disease management and prevention Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs Social and behavioral sciences