Cities may soon have a new tool in their efforts to contain the opioid epidemic: residents' own urine.
Biobot Analytics, the winning startup in a pitch competition judged by mayors this weekend at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, measures the concentration of opioids in sewage to estimate levels of drug use in different neighborhoods.
“Everybody pees, every day,” said Newsha Ghaeli, co-founder of Biobot, during her pitch to the mayors on Sunday. “And this rich source of human health information aggregates in our public sewers -- an infrastructure that you own, you maintain and you manage.”
Too often, public officials rely on information about opioids and opiates that is reactive, such as overdoses and deaths, Ghaeli says. With wastewater, cities can collect samples and analyze the data every two weeks, allowing them to pinpoint where residents are abusing drugs and whether consumption declines after policy interventions.
Since launching as a company six months ago, Biobot has already started operating in Cambridge, Mass., and will soon go live in Cary, N.C. as well. (Last month, Bloomberg Philanthropies named Cary one of 35 “Champion Cities” for its proposal to test Biobot’s opioid detection technology.)
“It’s a very creative way to use a source of untapped data. Who thinks about measuring wastewater?” said Fort Worth, Texas, Mayor Betsy Price, who was one of three mayors on a panel of judges. “This is another way to use city assets that we don’t think about to hit a problem like opioids or public health in general.”