The FDA is Offering a Cash Prize for an App to Fight Opioid Overdoses

opioids and phone app
Science & Medicine

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced earlier this month that the agency is launching a contest to create the best app designed to reduce the number of people who die every year from overdosing on opioid painkillers.

This is the same government agency that approved OxyContin for children in August 2015, as well as a drug called Movantik that treats opioid-induced constipation.

The smartphone app would be used to connect people overdosing on heroin with people nearby carrying the opioid antidote drug, naloxone. The individual or team who creates the most suitable app will win $40,000 from the federal government. [1]

FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said:

“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.” [2]

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis at the FDA, said:

“The goal of this competition is to develop a low-cost, scalable, crowd-sourced mobile application that addresses this issue of accessibility.

Mobile phone applications have been developed to educate laypersons on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone and to connect bystanders with individuals in need of other medical services, such as CPR. To date, however, no application is available to connect carriers of naloxone with nearby opioid overdose victims.” [3]

Smartphone apps currently exist to help people recognize an opioid overdose and administer naloxone, and connect people in need with emergency services, such as CPR.

The FDA said that it is working to make naloxone – available only in the United States – more readily accessible to first-responders, community-based organizations, and friends and family of opioid users.

Said Califf:

“Through this competition, we are tapping public health-focused innovators to help bring technological solutions to a real-world problem that is costing the U.S. thousands of lives each year.” [2]

For the Naloxone App Competition, the FDA is inviting those who register to participate in a 2-day code-a-thon on October 19 and 20. Final submissions must be in by November 7, after which time a panel of experts from the FDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will judge the entries. [3]


Developers will retain intellectual property rights to the submission. However, they will be granting the FDA a royalty-free worldwide license and the right to reproduce, publicly perform, publicly display, and use the app.

Additionally, the code for the app must be open source.


[1] Syracuse

[2] The Hill

[3] Medscape

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)