Chemistry and the Opioid Crisis

Opioid use is now a leading cause of death in the US, surpassing traffic accidents and gun violence. In South Bend, a city of about 100,000 people, more than 500 EMS incidents and 90 fatal overdoses involving opioids have occurred each year in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Super dangerous opioids, like fentanyl, are now showing up in many types of street drugs, from injectable drugs to tablets that mimic drugs like Xanex or Vicodin. Chemistry contributes to this problem--has anyone seen “Breaking Bad?” Chemistry also contributes to reducing the harm caused by opioids, through drugs like naloxone that can prevent an overdose and devices that can identify emerging hazards in street drugs. During the lecture there will be a hands-on activity where we will use lateral flow immunoassay strips to test samples for fentanyl, and I’ll describe how undergraduates can get involved in research projects and community service on this and other science topics.

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Marya Lieberman


College of Science

About the Lecturer

My lab is designing paper analytical devices (PADs) to solve a host of analytical problems in low resource settings. Paper is printed with hydrophobic ink to create millifluidic structures such as solution channels, reagent storage areas, and mixing zones. This enables us to automate operations that would normally be carried out with glassware in a lab setting. Many reactions and assay methods used before the age of spectroscopy can be adapted to the paper platform and done in a field setting rather than a laboratory. Current work focuses on synthetic biology for creating biosensors to embed in the paper and on techniques for trace (ppm, ppb) analysis in paper-based systems.

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