Smart opioid dispenser aims to curb abuse

The PILL device is a smart opioid dispenser with a timer and lock. The concept is from an RGH Physician Assistant and her husband. (Image courtesy: ROBRADY)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- It's a concept that could stop opioid addiction before it starts. The idea is the brainchild of a Rochester physician assistant and her husband.

Think of it as the pill bottle, reimagined. The PILL device is a high tech dispenser.

"We really want to target the abuse, addiction and the diversion,” said Afton Heitzenrater, a Physician Assistant at Rochester Regional Health.

Heitzenrater and her husband Jeff came up with the idea six years ago. They now have a patent, a prototype and a plan.

"This is something that you are handed at the pharmacy. You go home, you take your medication as prescribed,” said Heitzenrater.

They teamed up with Jeff’s uncle, Joseph Bujalski, and a product development firm called ROBRADY. The result was a smart opioid dispenser. It features a chip that controls a timer and lock.

"So they can pop that medication when it is unlocked and when the timer hits zero,” said Heitzenrater.

For example, you're prescribed a pain medication and told by your doctor to take it every six hours. The dispenser will only unlock at those intervals to avoid abuse.

"They can see when they need to take it and have that ability if they don't need that dose right then it's unlocked and you can take it when you need it, but we are recognizing the potential that this has,” said Heitzenrater.

The hope is the dispensers would be returned to the pharmacy, empty or with leftover medication. The chip would then be scanned to comply with any drug monitoring programs.

While not indestructible Heitzenrater does believe it could have a significant impact, saving thousands of lives a year.

"We think that stopping the start of addiction and helping somebody understand that this is a medication that does have an addictive potential or the potential for abuse early on is the biggest thing that we can do and where we can have the initial impact,” she said.

At under $2 per prescription, she believes there would be a significant cost benefit. They are now working on getting grants and hope to have to the dispenser in clinical trials this year. They are also looking for any funding or parterning opportunities to push the project forward.

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