Polymer science professor receives $200,000 prize to develop opiate-residue detection device

A polymer science professor at the University of Akron has invented a polymer-based fiber mat that can alert first responders to an emergency of the presence of an opioid, including heroin, within seconds so that they can take appropriate safety precautions. Abraham Joy received a $200,000 prize from the state of Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission as part of its Opioid Technology Challenge to further develop the technology.

Abraham Joy project
Early prototypes of the fiber mat that detects opiate residue are about the size of a Post-it note.

The fiber mat is incorporated with indicator compounds that change color upon contact with traces of opiates in less than 30 seconds. “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,” said Joy. “My research team learned through conversations with active law enforcement personnel that there isn’t anything like this available for first responders.”

Early prototypes of the product are simple strips about the size of a Post-it note. With the help of the prize money, Joy hopes to develop the material into something that can be embedded directly in latex gloves that first responders can carry with them. The prize money will also help increase production of the product through the university’s National Polymer Innovation Center.

"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.”

Abraham Joy
Abraham Joy

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 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.

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 four aforementioned categories. Recipients like Joy will be eligible to compete in the final Product Phase of the program to further develop their technologies for market entry.

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