It happens every day — paramedics and police officers being called upon to save the life of a person overdosing on deadly opiates. Safety nets like Narcan (a drug that reverses an overdose) exist to protect the victim, but what about the first responders who put their lives at risk to save another?
For that, Abraham Joy, a polymer science professor at The University of Akron (UA) is developing a solution.
Joy received a $200,000 prize from the state of Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission as part of its Opioid Technology Challenge. He’s creating a polymer-based fiber mat that can detect traces of opiate residue, giving first responders at the scene of an overdose a quick indication of the presence of an opioid in the vicinity, which will allow them to take appropriate precautions. The fiber mat incorporated with indicator compounds that change color from a dark-blue to white upon contact with traces of opiates such as heroin. It’s designed to react with an agent and change colors in less than 30 seconds.
Joy is one of 12 recipients from around the country and Canada receiving prize dollars from the state to focus on advancing technical solutions in the following areas: diagnose, prevent, connect and protect.
“As scientists, we are responsible for developing solutions to problems society is facing at-large,” said Joy. “The heightened awareness of the opiate epidemic in the U.S. right now, especially in Ohio, has allowed various approaches to be brought to the table to combat the problem. However, there hasn’t been much emphasis on protecting first responders who are called upon to rescue an overdose victim.”
Early prototypes of the product are simple strips about the size of a Post-it note. With the help of the prize money, Joy is intending to develop the material into something that can be imbedded directly onto latex gloves first responders can carry with them. The prize money will also help increase production of the product through UA’s National Polymer Innovation Center.
“The polymer mat doesn’t tell a first responder exactly what the substance is; instead, it serves as an indicator for the presence of harmful materials,” said Joy. “This is providing first responders with the ability to quickly get a yes/no answer for the presence of a controlled substance, rather than having them turn into analytical chemists when testing questionable substances. My research team learned through conversations with active law enforcement personnel that there isn’t anything like this available for first responders.”
A product that can simply wipe a surface and indicate the presence of opiates is a fantastic idea,” said Angela Paonessa, a detective with the University of Akron Police Department. “There’s nothing like this on the market for first responders to use. Drug testing kits that are currently used sometimes break and cause police officers to be exposed to harmful chemicals. With the product Dr. Joy is developing, we’ll be able to immediately know if there’s residue of opiates around us as we help an overdosed victim. This could prevent police officers and paramedics from exposure and possibly overdosing at the scene.”
At the request of Ohio Governor John R. Kasich, the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge leverages $8 million of an up to $20 million commitment to advance new ideas in the battle against drug abuse and addiction. The Challenge is a three-phase, prize-based competition to identify technology-based solutions that address the opioid epidemic.
Joy is a recipient in the “Protect” category of the challenge’s second phase. This phase taps into the expertise of the worldwide business and innovation community to advance technical solutions in the areas of Diagnose, Prevent, Connect and Protect. Recipients like Joy will be eligible to compete in the final phase of the program, the Product Phase, to further develop their technology for market entry.