Lab Report

May 13, 2021
No. 183

How the Opioid Detection Challenge advanced new hardware solutions. 

Plus: weather data, building certifications, and problem statements.

Featured story


Redefining fast, accurate drug detection

More than 81,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2020, the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 100 times more powerful than morphine, is driving dramatic increases in overdose deaths. IIllicit fentanyl is often purchased online and shipped directly to buyers; packages can come from anywhere in the world, and lethal amounts can be shipped in small parcels, making illegal drugs difficult to detect. At the same time, e-commerce platforms and marketplaces are growing, and there are more international parcels entering mail sorting facilities than ever before. 

Intercepting illegal opioids — without disrupting the flow of mail — is the modern-day equivalent of trying to find “a needle in a haystack.” Following an executive order and a bipartisan bill in Congress, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate — along with its partners at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — sought nonintrusive tools and technologies for rapidly detecting illicit opioids in international mail. 

Traffickers rapidly adapt and shift tactics to evade detection, so effective tools would have to be more nimble than criminals. And while the desired technologies would be used to detect opioids in the near-term, the hardware solutions would need to adapt to future needs for other types of detection. To be successful, solutions would also need to fit a complex workflow inside busy facilities: The International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York processes more than half of all the incoming international mail into the United States — roughly 1 million items each day. Detection tools with the requisite level of speed and accuracy didn’t already exist in the market, and there was no guarantee that an adequate solution could be developed and procured. 

Read our latest case study to find out how the Opioid Detection Challenge used open innovation to advance new hardware solutions, bringing new detection machines to an international mail facility.

Insights & updates

Data from one of the world’s oldest and largest citizen science projects is helping NOAA understand how “normal” weather is shifting with climate change.

“Although scholarship on the social determinants of health has been growing for decades, real moves to fix the underlying problems are complex, politically fraught and, as a consequence, rare.”

The new Verified Healthy Buildings certification — “LEED for the COVID-19 era” — helps building owners demonstrate they’ve done everything they can to reduce virus transmission indoors.

“When doing creative problem solving, the statement of the problem is the cue to memory.” And retrieving the right information from the right sources is critical for innovation.

Cool jobs & opportunities

Harvard Innovation Labs is looking for a Director, Healthcare and Life Sciences in Boston. 

The Digital Therapeutics Alliance is searching for a CEO in Washington, D.C. 

The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community is accepting applications for its New York Hub through May 28. 

We’re hiring! Please help us connect with an Associate – Digital Health & Regulatory (New York or remote) at the intersection of digital marketing and regulated industries: Share this opening with your network.
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