Johns Hopkins University Engineering Students Have Developed a Tamper-proof, Biometric Pill Bottle

 

Engineering students within John Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering have developed a new pill bottle that they hope will address the growing prescription drug abuse problem currently plaguing the US. The project was undertaken in response to a challenge issued by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that, citing the 16,000 annual deaths attributed to prescription drug-related overdoses, called on engineering students to develop a tamper-proof pill bottle that could help control the nation’s relatively unsecured supply of prescription narcotics. "We needed this personal pill ‘safe’ to have tamper resistance, personal identification capabilities, and a locking mechanism that allows only a pharmacist to load the device with pills," explains Kavi Bhalla, assistant professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In response, a team of four undergraduate engineering students have developed a 2.75 pound, nine-inch-tall pill bottle constructed from steel that it says can be attacked with a hammer or even a drill and will prevail against efforts to break into it. Fingerprint scanners are used to control dispensing, ensuring that pills are only dispensed to the patient it was prescribed to, and only at the appropriate times and in the appropriate doses. The team collected feedback from clinicians at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, as well as from retail pharmacists working at the on-campus Rite Aid. Once they were satisfied with their design, the team turned it over to a fellow engineering student with their own challenge: Break into the bottle. "He took a hammer and other tools to it, from a hacksaw to a drill, and he broke at least one drill bit trying to get it open," Johns Hopkins engineering student Megan Carney says.

While a more secure pill bottle would certainly help public health officials clamp down on prescription narcotics proliferation, one overlooked value in this design is its ability to record medication adherence rates. Any pill bottle with a fingerprint reader that only dispenses medications at the correct dose and time could be retrofitted to double as a digitally-connected monitoring system that records each time a patient takes their medication, something that would expand its commercial potential significantly as payers and health systems work to reduce the billions unnecessarily spent on services due to poor medication adherence.


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