BYU students develop device to prevent prescription pill abuse

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PROVO, Utah -- Prescription pain medicine abuse is a growing problem, and some Brigham Young University students have created a device they hope will help prevent abuse.

Joel Marshall is a mechanical engineering student at BYU, and he said the idea for their device came from someone who knows the dangers of overdose all too well.

"The idea originally came from Chris Blackburn, who's a paramedic in Las Vegas, and he deals with overdose cases every day, and so he wanted to create a device that would enable people to not have access to their pills except for when the prescription said they were supposed to have them."

Marshall and other students spent several months designing their prototype, which is called the Med Vault. Pharmacists plug the device into a USB port to access the device and load the pills. Madison Clark is another BYU student who worked on the prototype, and she explained the security the device supplies.

"It has both a password for the pharmacist when they program it to dispense a pill according to the prescription, as well as the user password that they enter every time that it's time to get a pill."

The device is designed to prevent people from taking too many of their pills or taking them too often. Clark said the device is very secure.

"It's made out of a material that won't be broken with a hammer or anything,” she said. “It's built and designed to keep people out."

Marshall said the device was not an easy thing to build.

"It was really challenging to make something that would allow pills of any shape and size to be dispensed while still maintaining an easy loading mechanism,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990. About 100 people die from an overdose every day in the U.S.

Clark said those numbers motivated them to create the super-secure device.

"We knew that it was so important that people couldn't hack it because then they would just get their pills all the time,” she said.

Blackburn, the Las Vegas paramedic, is sponsoring the students. He has filed for a patent on the device and plans to take it into production.

The project was part of BYU’s annual engineering capstone program, where 30 companies from around the country sponsor students to create engineering solutions.