CEO and Co-founder, 908 Devices

Kevin J. Knopp

The opioid crisis is becoming more grim with each passing day. According to the CDC, an estimated 100,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. during the 12-month period ending in April 2021; a nearly 30% increase from the year prior, and more than the combined death toll from car crashes and guns.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated ongoing challenges of the opioid epidemic, as symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the U.S. during April-June 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. According to a CDC report, approximately 13% of more than 5,400 respondents started or increased substance use due to stress or emotions as a result of the pandemic.

At 908 Devices, we’re directly assisting first responders and front-line workers combating the opioid epidemic by providing simple, handheld devices for drug detection and identification. For instance, our handheld mass spectrometry device, the MX908® rapidly detects trace amounts of substances. As the ongoing crisis has been largely driven by potent synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and its analogs, the MX908 has been adopted by leading government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to help to identify narcotics as well as other chemical hazards.

Our technology enables law enforcement to detect street drugs rapidly and safely. In January we announced the MX908 was being deployed by the Ohio Attorney General Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission to provide reliable investigative information in the field with rapid analysis of suspected narcotics, and to limit officer exposure to dangerous synthetic opioids. By October, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced a pilot program for police departments across three cities where officers will utilize the MX908 for mobile drug testing at the point-of-need. Yost calls the MX908, “a crime lab in your hands,” explaining how it enables officers to remain safe, functioning as part of the ongoing initiative of policing the future to effectively keep opioids off our streets.

Similarly, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida held a press conference to share the impact the MX908 has had in their region. The rapid and accurate analyses performed are protecting deputies and fire rescue personnel from fentanyl exposure, whether they’re in the field or scanning incoming mail at correctional facilities. Across the country, communities are able to take action against the pervasiveness of fentanyl.

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals pose another significant threat to public health. The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public safety alert at the end of September – its first in six years – warning Americans of the significant increase in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl. Presently, two ​​out of every five pills contain a potentially lethal dose. The number of DEA-seized counterfeit pills with fentanyl has jumped by nearly 430% since 2019. But identifying counterfeit pills on the street can be quite challenging, especially as many of these counterfeit pills are made to resemble prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam.

When manufacturers making counterfeit pills replicate authentic prescription drugs, the only way to identify them on the street is through field testing. Enter the MX908; it excels at detecting trace-level narcotics in cutting agents, such as the mixtures found in counterfeit pills, in seconds. This enables first responders to minimize exposure and develop a coordinated plan of action to deal with the substances.

Communities are constantly faced with a barrage of new and emerging threats that first responders cannot identify visually. While fentanyl and counterfeit pills are driving headlines, recently we’ve heard customers mention the growing presence of illicit drugs like Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, and Eutylone, a stimulant. The MX908 is regularly updated to identify these chemicals, which, when paired with officer safety programs, can mitigate the spread in the community.

The race is on to mitigate the ongoing, evolving threat of fentanyl, counterfeit pills and other deadly substances flooding the market.