Opioid detection tech wins $1 million award
July 14, 2021
OTTAWA – Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced Scatr Inc. as the winner of Health Canada and Impact Canada’s Drug Checking Technology Challenge. Scatr is receiving the $1 million grand prize for its innovative drug checking technology that quickly and accurately identifies the contents of potentially toxic illegal drugs and helps prevent overdoses.
Current options for drug checking technology are often expensive, complicated to use, or lacking accuracy and reliability. To address this gap and accelerate innovation, the Government of Canada launched the Drug Checking Technology Challenge in 2018.
Drug checking technologies, such as Scatr’s device, can be used in supervised consumption sites and services to provide people who use drugs and health workers with information on the contents of toxic street drugs, including whether they contain deadly fentanyl or benzodiazepines. This gives people who use drugs the opportunity to make informed decisions that may reduce their risk of overdose.
Scatr’s technology was selected out of 24 applicants by an independent judging panel for best meeting the Challenge criteria. It can accurately test drugs in as little as 60 seconds without destroying the sample.
It also has a number of unique and useful features for people who use drugs and health workers, such as the ability to issue alerts for unknown substances, an easy-to-understand visual of the drug’s composition, and the capacity for the person using the service to remain anonymous.
“The Drug-Checking Technology Challenge was a life-changing experience for us. It was such an honour to learn from people on the ground fighting in this overdose epidemic in Canada and to be able to contribute something to its end,” said Ari Forman (pictured, left), a co-founder of Scatr.
“It was remarkable to know that we could impact the lives of underserved Canadians, and it was such an incredible experience,” added his co-founder, Alex Boukin (pictured, right).
Drug checking is a critical part of the continuum of harm reduction measures that the federal government supports, alongside supervised consumption sites, naloxone and safer supply programs. The Government of Canada continues to respond to the opioid overdose crisis through a comprehensive public health and evidence-based approach that is focused on reducing harms, prevention, treatment and enforcement.
“As we continue to respond to the overdose crisis in Canada, it’s important that we provide tools to keep those that use drugs safe from overdose. Scatr’s drug checking technology can prevent overdoses, and better track toxic illegal drugs,” said Ms. Hajdu. “My thanks to all participants and the judges for their hard work, and our congratulations to Scatr on winning the grand prize! This technology will prevent overdose and help save lives.”
“I want to thank the Federal Government for entrusting myself and the entire Opioid Drug Testing Selection Committee for allowing us to review and support many world class ideas that will save countless lives, and ultimately selecting a winner,” said Steve Cody, Drug Checking Technology Challenge panel member.
“Not only has it been a privilege to Chair and work alongside this selection team, Health Canada, The Privy Council and the Industrial Research Assistance Program, it has also been the best way that a dad could honour his son’s death, caused by this crisis. This challenge was never about creating a ‘winner’, it was about inspiring many entrepreneurs to come up with live saving technology for Canadians, which means as Canadians, we all win.”
The Drug Checking Technology Challenge, launched in October 2018 in partnership with Impact Canada, took place in three stages over a two-year period. Through the various milestones of the project, including the grand prize announcement, the Government of Canada has provided a total of $1,724,500 million to nine participants to catalyze innovation in drug checking technologies.
The Challenge winner was selected based on the recommendation of an independent judging panel consisting of individuals with a variety of expertise, including people with lived and living experience, people who work in supervised consumption sites and harm reduction, individuals in academia/science, experts in drug checking technology, and individuals from the business/innovation sector.
Scatr co-founders, Alex Boukin and Ari Forman of Ontario, developed Series One, a cutting-edge dual spectrometer to detect potentially deadly contents in illegal drugs. By obtaining and analyzing both Raman and Near-Infrared spectra, the device will provide instant, real-time reporting on the identity and concentration of drug mixtures and their analogues.
Using a cloud-based infrastructure, the Scatr Series One continuously updates to adapt to a constantly increasing sample size and the latest in spectroscopy science.
In 2019, the Government of Canada also concluded another innovation challenge, the Opioid Data Challenge, to propose and test novel data sources and methodologies to measure opioid overdoses in Canadian communities.
Impact Canada is a Government of Canada-wide effort that helps government departments accelerate the adoption of innovative funding approaches to deliver meaningful results to Canadians.
The opioid overdose crisis has continued to worsen significantly during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. The latest national data confirms that 2020 was the worst year for overdoses and deaths in Canada since Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) started to monitor the crisis in 2016. Sadly, 6,214 people throughout the country died last year due to opioid-related overdoses. This means that in 2020, on average, 17 people died and 14 people were hospitalized every day due to opioid-related overdoses.
To further help people dealing with substance use and address the ongoing overdose crisis, the Government recently announced in Budget 2021 an additional $116 million for the Substance Use and Addictions Program. The funding would support a range of innovative approaches to harm reduction, treatment, and prevention at the community level.
This builds on $66 million invested in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement for community-based organizations responding to substance use issues, including helping them provide frontline services in a COVID-19 context.