A Vancouver company will roll out an innovative alert system in Franklin County early next year aimed at reducing overdose deaths and violence against those involved in prostitution.
Under a $100,000 contract approved by the county commissioners Tuesday, Brave Technology will install wireless buttons in support housing to provide access to immediate assistance for drug users. The company also will offer its “BeSafe” mobile application, accessible through cellphones, to connect addicts and women involved in prostitution with support in case of accidental overdose or violence.
Both are designed to help residents struggling with addiction and other issues to become less isolated and to build trust with services that ultimately could help them exit destructive behaviors.
“A nonjudgmental approach at first is what builds trust,” said Oona Krieg, Brave’s chief operating officer. “And once the trust is built, when people need help, they know where to go. … When it is self-initiated, change is so much more likely.”
Michael Daniels, director of justice policy and programs for Franklin County, cited success in other programs, including safe needle exchanges for drug users.
“Everybody comes in the first time just to exchange needles,” he said. “But after the third or fourth time, once you’ve established that rapport and I’m working with you … that’s the point where maybe you say, ‘I’m tired of this.’ … But we wait for you to be ready to do that.”
Brave was one of four groups awarded $1 million prizes earlier this year as part of the state-funded Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, which included a statewide competition seeking new, tech-based ideas for addressing drug abuse and addiction.
The western Canada company, which started about four years ago and which is establishing new operations in central Ohio, developed a quarter-sized button that, when pushed, pinpoints a user’s location and hails immediate assistance from emergency responders and others.
“Someone comes and checks on you,” Krieg said. “They walk up the stairs or they walk in the door within 2 to 5 minutes … If you overdose or if you’re in a violent situation, you’re having a mental health crisis, someone comes prepared to be able to help.”
Under the county contract, about 80 Franklin County residents will have access to the Brave Buttons in their homes, with the program specifically targeting men who have been jailed.
Brave also will deploy a wireless app to about 200 others initially, providing an anonymous way for drug users and those involved in prostitution to reach out for help if they feel in danger of an overdose or violence. If users fail to respond through the system after a set period of time, help can be sent to their location.
“It’s not a ‘try to talk you out of using, try to talk you out of tricking,’” Daniels said. “It’s ‘how do I keep you alive, how do I keep you from being a victim of a crime?’”
Daniels countered criticism that such programs accommodate drug use or other illegal activities.
“There has to be a certain recognition that people are in active use and people are engaged in survival sex,” he said. “And they’re doing it now in a way that is unsafe. They’re overdosing alone, and we’re finding girls who are in that business on the West Side in burning trashcans and shallow graves at Alum Creek. This is an opportunity to prevent those tragedies of overdose and of victimization, putting them in touch with peers and always having an option for them to be able to connect directly to treatment and services.”