Can an App Help Solve the Opioid Crisis? Student Hackers Gather at Penn to Find Out

A file photo of a previous PennApps event. Philadelphia Business Journal

The largest collegiate hackathon is getting underway on the University of Pennsylvania campus this weekend with a new focus on tackling one of the biggest public health issues in our region and America — the opioid crisis.

It’s the eighth year the PennApps hackathon has drawn upwards of 2,000 student hackers from around the world to Philadelphia to code, compete for tens of thousands in prizes, attend workshops and more. Those who venture into the hackathon’s health care and behavior health track — virtual reality, digital security and civic hacking are also options — will team up to build software applications over the course of 56 hours that have a direct focus on aiding officials, people in recovery and other stakeholders working to address the rise in addiction and deaths related to opioid use.

The focus stems from a partnership between PennApps, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Quaker Peer Recovery, a recovery community at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice.

Robert Ashford, president of Quaker Peer Recovery, said the applications could come at the issue from any approach – including drawing on interagency data on opioid addictions, developing an API or overlay to bring that kind of information into electronic health record systems, or building out apps that help those in recovery navigate resources or stay accountable through things like self check-ins and social media networks for recovering addicts.

Ashford, an MSW candidate at Penn SP2, said geotargeting technology could also be used to push ads out to smartphone users in areas that have seen marked upticks in overdoses.

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