Multi-agency partnership launches US$1.55m challenge for new solutions to detect opioids

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), has launched the Opioid Detection Challenge, a US$1.55m (£1.18m) global prize competition that calls upon innovators to submit novel plans for rapid, non-intrusive detection tools that will help find illicit opioids being trafficked into the USA through international mail.

“CBP is excited to partner with DHS S&T to identify the next generation of interdiction tools,” said CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “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.”

The abuse of opioids such as fentanyl has created an unprecedented public health crisis across the USA. In 2017, approximately 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. Large-scale drug trafficking of fentanyl can occur via small packages sent in the mail as well as through other avenues like ports of entry, making detection a significant challenge.

“Stopping the flow of illicit drugs from coming into the USA 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,” said ONDCP director Jim Carroll.

“This competition is part of the comprehensive government effort to address the opioid crisis that is devastating too many American communities,” said DHS senior official performing the duties of the Under Secretary for science and technology William N Bryan. “New tools and technologies offer a critical opportunity to more quickly and accurately detect opioids before they enter the United States.”

“Postal Inspectors have always made it their mission to protect the public and the US Postal Service from the dangers of illegal narcotics,” said chief postal inspector Gary R Barksdale. “This challenge and the partnerships involved will provide better mechanisms and technologies to identify and stop the flow of opioids into the country.”

The Challenge calls on innovators in a wide range of fields, from forensic science to industrial quality assurance to artificial intelligence, to help disrupt the flow of opioids into the USA. Submissions should be well-developed 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. The Challenge is open to international and domestic participants, as defined in the Rules, Terms and Conditions.

Those interested in participating in the Challenge should submit their plans by 4:59pm ET on April 24, 2019. The judges will evaluate the submissions and select up to eight finalists to advance to Stage 2 of the competition. Each finalist is expected to be awarded an equal share of the US$800,000 (£606,752) Stage 1 prize pool.

In Stage 2, finalists will participate in a 14-week prototyping accelerator, during which they will develop their plans into testable prototypes and compete for an additional US$750,000 (£568,830) in cash prizes.

Stage 2 will culminate in a live test event hosted by DHS, where finalists will convene for on-site testing of their prototypes. One grand prize winner is expected to be awarded US$500,000 (£379,220) and one runner-up is expected to be awarded US$250,000 (£189,610).

For more information about the Opioid Detection Challenge, visit

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With over a decade of experience as a business and technology journalist working in B2B publishing, Hazel first joined UKi in 2011. After taking 18 months off to bring up her daughter and try her hand at marketing copywriting, she returned in January 2018 to do what she loves best – magazine editing! She is now the editor of UKi's Passenger Terminal World and Parcel and Postal Technology International magazines.

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