Seeking innovators

Pile of packages

The Office of National Drug Control Policy — in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Postal Inspection Service and other federal agencies — has announced a global competition to find tools to help detect illegal opioids in international mail.

The Opioid Detection Challenge is a $1.55 million prize competition to attract the best ideas for rapid, nonintrusive detection of the drugs. Innovators from a wide range of fields — including forensic science, industrial quality assurance and artificial intelligence — are invited to participate.

“Postal inspectors have always made it their mission to protect the public and the U.S. Postal Service from the dangers of illegal narcotics,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary 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 abuse of opioids such as fentanyl has created an unprecedented public health crisis across the United States. 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, making detection a significant challenge.

Other agencies working on the challenge include U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Opioid Detection Challenge site has more information, including rules and deadlines.