Social innovation groups unite to tackle the heroin epidemic

An innovative collaboration between Cincinnati City Council, Spry Labs, 17A and Cintrifuse is tackling the opioid crisis with technology to find solutions to help addicts, their families and the community.

“Everyone knows opiates are a huge issue here,” says Annie Rittgers, founder of public sector strategy firm 17A. “But unlike other social problems, there has been little solution-oriented conversation around it. With the vibrant tech scene here and the willingness of agencies to collaborate around the issue, we were able to bring the right people to the table and help them connect.”

Hacking Heroin worked with representatives from tech, public safety, healthcare, venture capital, government and recovery services to craft eight challenges around prevention, response, response-to-recovery and recovery. Over 200 people took part in the three-day hackathon, which was held in June.

“People who wouldn’t normally show up together were there, including socially conscious people who want to be part of an economy and community that solves problems this way,” says Emily Geiger, managing director of the consumer-driven healthcare studio Spry Labs.

Although hackathons around public sector issues are not a new concept, results from other cities have been mixed. The Cincinnati organizers were determined that not only would Hacking Heroin generate solutions, but that winning ideas would receive additional support and development.

  • First Place: Give Hope — Develop a crowdfunding application for organizations on the front lines of addressing the heroin crisis and help them with tools to reach donors
  • Most Community Impact: Window — An application to connect patients and families to real-time availability of treatment options and service providers
  • Crowd Favorite: Lazarus — An Uber-like service to provide on-demand, location-based help for those needing treatment or support

Spry Labs is providing workspace for the winnings teams, and the entire collaborative is connecting them with resources to de-risk and test their applications, including experts on HIPPA privacy implications.

“Now we need to figure out the infrastructure to support the projects and what the follow up should be,” says Rittgers. “There is a real gap in how to pilot new technology within existing delivery models. Cincinnati is unique in creating a collaboration that will help these teams do that.”

In September, the winning teams will present a status update on their projects at IXHealth, where leaders from Microsoft's Technology & Civic Innovation will be in attendance, as well as City Council's Education & Entrepreneurship Committee. Meanwhile, Hacking Heroin organizers continue to meet to work on next steps.

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.  
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