HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Officials around the country have been warning about the dangers of fentanyl for years, but the deadly synthetic opioid is still causing record-high overdoses. Fentanyl, which is 100 times more powerful than morphine, is often laced in illicit and recreational drugs, sometimes unknown to the user.
Accounting for over 70,000 fatal overdoses in 2021, fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for ages 18-45. Recently, harm reduction and prevention have become paramount in the fight against it.
“Fentanyl kills more people than guns and car accidents,” said August Koster, Co-Founder of Signify Analytics.
Fentanyl sometimes takes the form of counterfeit pain pills, and more recently, colorful candy-like pills known as “rainbow fentanyl.” But as the threat of fentanyl grows, so does the technology to fight it.
August Koster and Ryan Razzaghi are the Co-Founders of Signify Analytics. Their company sells at-home fentanyl test kits that can detect the presence of fentanyl in under five minutes with 98-percent accuracy. The test kits can also be used as a tool to map fentanyl hot spots.
“With this data, we can inform the general public of fentanyl spikes in their city or region and exercise caution,” said Koster. “People will have real-time knowledge of an outbreak of fentanyl within their city. Having this data puts us on the preventative side of battling the fentanyl epidemic, and is a much better position to be in,” Koster added.
Signify Analytics is developing a real-time map, based on positive test results, where fentanyl outbreaks can be monitored in specific regions. Consumers have the option to anonymously submit a positive result using a QR code located on the test kit.
“We only asked for three things: the date they completed the test, the general region or location and the substance they tested,” said Razzaghi. “We’re only interested in those three pieces of information, as we can use this for our real-time software, which we’re developing to warn people about fentanyl outbreaks,” he added.
Signify Analytics has been collecting data from positive results for about six months. Koster and Razzaghi hope to receive additional data so that they can provide the most accurate fentanyl spike alerts and the best real-time map to inform the public.
“In order to provide accurate fentanyl spike alerts, we need substantial data. Once we’re confident that the aggregate data is accurate, we can proceed to testing and deployment of the real-time map software we’re building,” said Razzaghi. “We’re working hard to get harm reduction organizations and other individuals to realize the value of this data and that it can and will prevent overdoses and save lives,” Razzaghi added.
Like many Americans, their motivation to speak up and make a difference hits close to home.
“We unfortunately lost a close friend due to an overdose, and obviously this was heartbreaking for us,” said Razzaghi. “And we heard other similar stories of friends who’ve lost loved-ones or someone they knew. We realized how tragic the situation is and that fentanyl is ripping through communities and how close it hit home. We decided to take action on it and make the most accurate fentanyl test available as well as the most practical fentanyl test available,” Razzaghi added.