Baltimore Students Create An App To Detect If Their Heroin Is Laced With Fentanyl

If you have a smartphone, you’ve probably heard the distinct sound of an AMBER alert and or perhaps weather notifications. These notifications are free and great, alerting us to potential danger, and what we need to do to prepare.

With the help of student programmers, Baltimore health officials have launched a similar notification service, but it’s to warn residents in the city when a deadly batch of drugs enters their neighborhood. Mike LeGrand, co-founder of the nonprofit Code in the Schools, worked with a team of student programmers around Baltimore to develop ‘Bat Batch Alert‘, an anonymous free text messaging service aimed at helping those struggling with heroin addiction to stay alive.

LeGrand got the idea of ‘Bad Batch Alert’, after he lost a close friend in Florida to an opioid overdose. With a grant from Baltimore City’s health department and data feeds from Emergency medical services (EMS), LeGrand was able to track the “hot spots of fentanyl overdoses” across the city.

The service also has a built-in suite of commands aimed at providing support and recovery tools, such as access the 24-hour crisis line, real-time notification of the needle exchange van’s current location, and access to the Naloxone training schedule.

Some example commands are:

The app’s website breaks down how the technology works:

Twilio middleware to programmatically receive and send text messages. The code for this lives on the cloud hosted by Heroku and is written in node.js. The backend is a Postgres database with encrypted user information. We host our code in git and automatically deploy to heroku on commits.

So, why focus on Baltimore’s opioid crisis? 

To gain a perspective of the unraveling American empire, we must first dive into the inner cities. In particular, Baltimore, which is battling an opioid crisis and near record high murders (see: “Deadliest Year Ever” – Baltimore Eclipses 2016 Homicide Total), is the model where the government officials pilot test technology to curb the violence. After all, Baltimore did have Pentagon spy blimps circling above for a few years. So, an app that tracks bad drugs throughout the city is not surprising…

Death and despair are common in the city after 50-years of democratic controlled leadership coupled with deindustrialization, which has stripped the economy to the bone enabling an urban war-zone to take hold.

Baltimore City, which recently hosted the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on the national opioid epidemic, has been flooded with opioids for many decades.

This is not a new problem for Baltimore, but in the past few years, the number of overdoses have increased at an alarming rate.

Vice describes the fentanyl crisis unfolding in Baltimore,

As many as one in 10 residents is addicted, and fatal overdoses have been spiking in recent years, largely due to the prominence of fentanyl, which is being cut into heroin. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent, but it varies in amount from batch to batch.  

The Baltimore Sun provides more color on the crisis,

Last year, more than 2,000 people died of drug overdoses in Maryland — more than twice as many as two years ago. More than half of those deaths were from fentanyl, which is pouring in from overseas. The problem is particularly dramatic in Baltimore, where nearly 700 people died from overdoses last year. Of those overdoses, 419 were from fentanyl.