According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have tripled since 1990, now killing 100 Americans daily. The ubiquity of painkillers and the high number of prescriptions make it impossible to just lock the drugs away, however.
But what if you could? BYU students partnered with a Las Vegas paramedic to do just that, creating a pill-dispensing gadget called the "Med Vault," in an attempt to solve the nation's fastest-growing drug problem.
Gizmodo reports that the device "was designed to be difficult to compromise or tamper with," and can only be opened by a pharmacist, who attaches it to a computer via USB cable.
"The Med Vault can actually store and distribute pills for a variety of prescriptions, but only as programmed by the pharmacist," Gizmodo reports. "And as an added safety measure the patient has to enter an access code every time a pill is ready, to prevent others from stealing their meds."
“The fact that there isn’t a solution to the drug overdose epidemic really drove us,” said Dallin Swiss, a mechanical engineering senior on the team, in a BYU press release. “This provides a missing piece to that national dilemma, and so it matters whether or not we succeed.”
The device is supposedly tamper-resistant and break-resistant, and is chiefly designed for painkillers, so if the device malfunctions it wouldn't be life-threatening.
Mashable reports that one "Med Vault" could potentially be manufactured for around $20.
According to BYU's press release, Chris Blackburn, the Las Vegas paramedic that sponsored the team, has filed a patent for the invention and plans to take the student prototype into production.
“Once narcotics leave custody of the pharmacist and pass into the hands of the consumer, there are no safety mechanisms to keep the patient on their prescription regimen,” Blackburn said in the release. “The Med Vault is designed to combat the abuse, misuse, overdoses and fraud associated with those drugs.”