Virtual Overdose Response for People Who Use Opioids Alone: Protocol for a Feasibility and Clinical Trial Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2021 May 12;10(5):e20183. doi: 10.2196/20183.


Background: A recent quarterly report released by Alberta Health reports that on average 2.5 Albertans die every day from accidental overdose deaths, and that between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020, the province lost a total of 301 people. In Canada, between January 2016 and March 2020, a total of 16,364 people died due to opioid-related overdose. The World Health Organization reports that 70% of the 0.5 million deaths worldwide caused by drugs are related to opioid overdose. Although supervised consumption sites or safe injection sites have been shown to be effective in reducing the harms associated with the use of illicit substances and increasing uptake of addiction treatment and other health services, there is still significant stigma associated with them, and it is unlikely that all of the people who would benefit from supervised consumption service will ever access a site.

Objective: To help prevent deaths in populations that cannot or will not access physical safer consumption services in Alberta, we propose to provide virtual (telephone-based) overdose response services, staffed by people with lived experience.The primary outcome for this study is uptake of the service as measured by the number of calls to the service. Secondary outcomes will include patterns of use of the phone line (days of the week and time of calls) and outcomes from the calls (number of emergency medical services dispatches for overdoses from the service and the results of those dispatches).

Methods: This phase 1 clinical study is set to officially launch in early May 2020. The service will be available to up to 15 participants who self-disclose as using opioids unobserved and have given informed consent for both data collection and interviews. This group will have access to a toll-free telephone number and be invited to call when they plan to use opioids alone.

Results: The analysis will include mixed methods. To improve the design of the service and ensure safety of all involved, quantitative data will be collected on phone calls and participant health care usage, while qualitative data will be collected from both participants and virtual overdose response operators.

Conclusions: This clinical trial aims to test the feasibility of a service that provides virtual overdose response in order to help prevent deaths in populations that cannot or will not access physical supervised consumption services in Alberta.

Trial registration: NCT04391192;

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/20183.

Keywords: harm reduction; opioid crisis; overdose response; peers; people with lived experience.

Associated data