This startup wants to track opioid use via sewers

Cambridge, Mass.- based Biobot Analytics is developing technology to measure traces of drugs in sewers. In doing so, researchers will be able to analyze patterns of ongoing drug use and provide communities with a tool to detect emerging public health epidemics, according to STAT.  

"Our goal is to transform sewers into public health observatories," said Newsha Ghaeli, one of the company's co-founders, to STAT.

Biobot Analytics plans to use water-sampling robots to analyze a city's sewage as a collective  urine and stool sample, looking for specific molecules found in opioids when ingested by the human body. This information helps researchers differentiate between drugs flushed down a toilet and those actually ingested by a human.

One of the biggest challenges Biobot Analytics faces is finding a city willing to act as a test site for the technology, due to the ever-growing stigma of opioid addiction.

"It really comes down to finding a city that wants to know about what's in their sewer," Daniel Burgard, PhD, chair of the chemistry department at Tacoma, Wash.-basedUniversity of Puget Sound, told STAT.

Several European cities are already using wastewater-based epidemiology techniques todetect illegal substances, but wastewater treatment facilities conduct the testing.

In 2017, Cary, North Carolina, saw a 70 percent increase in opioid use from the previous year. Mike Bajorek, mayor of Cary, reached out to Biobot Analytics to design a three-month pilot program to thoroughly assess the severity of Cary's opioid epidemic.

Biobot and Cary installed technology aimed to catch and filter specific materials in 10 locations around the town and will collect data over a 24-hour period.

More articles on opioids: 

Sculptor places 700-pound heroin spoon outside Purdue Pharma headquarters
Study: Some common drugs may make opioid overdoses 5 times more likely
Schumacher Clinical Partners addresses opioid epidemic

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