Several federal government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, introduced a program this week called the Opioid Detection Challenge, a $1.55 million competition to develop opioid detection technologies.
The Opioid Detection Challenge calls upon innovators to submit plans for rapid, nonintrusive detection tools that will help find opioids being trafficked illegally into the United States through international mail. Along with DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the program is being launched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
“CBP is excited to partner with DHS S&T to identify the next generation of interdiction tools,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said. “The technologies that emerge from this innovation challenge will be important elements of our multi-layered approach to combat the flow of opioids and other dangerous illicit drugs.”
Opioids abuse has become a public health crisis in the United States. In 2017, approximately 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. Drug trafficking of opioids like fentanyl can occur through the mail as well as through ports of entry.
“Stopping the flow of illicit drugs from coming into the United States is a crucial part of addressing the addiction crisis. This competition will bring together innovators, experts, and technology leaders to help meet the challenges we face head on and accomplish our ultimate goal – saving lives,” ONDCP Director Jim Carroll said.
Those who are interested in participating in the challenge should submit their plans for automated, user-friendly tools and technologies that have the potential to quickly and accurately detect opioids in parcels, without disrupting the flow of mail. It is open to both international and domestic participants.
“This competition is part of the comprehensive government effort to address the opioid crisis that is devastating too many American communities,” DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology William Bryan said. “New tools and technologies offer a critical opportunity to more quickly and accurately detect opioids before they enter the United States.”
Plans should be submitted by 4:59 PM ET on April 24. The judges will evaluate the submissions and select up to eight finalists to advance to the next stage of the competition. Each finalist is expected to be awarded an equal share of the $800,000 Stage 1 prize pool.
“Postal Inspectors have always made it their mission to protect the public and the U.S. Postal Service from the dangers of illegal narcotics,” Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said. “This challenge and the partnerships involved will provide better mechanisms and technologies to identify and stop the flow of opioids into the country.”
In Stage 2, finalists will participate in a 14-week program where they will develop their plans into testable prototypes and compete for an additional $750,000 in cash prizes. It will culminate in a live test event hosted by DHS, where finalists will meet for on-site testing of their prototypes. The grand prize winner will be awarded $500,000 while the runner-up will be awarded $250,000.