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New pill container designed to battle drug abuse

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Louisville company has created a secure pill dispenser with the aim of combating prescription drug abuse.

The Pill Guard is designed to ensure patients get the prescribed dose of medicine at the right time, and prevents a user from taking too many pills at a time.

“It’s another tool, and it’s the strongest tool out there from a mechanical point of view,” Roger Hayes, president of the Jeffersontown company, told The Courier-Journal. “It’s a progression from the `70s with the child-resistant caps. This is making it adult-resistant.”

The company launched the product as a pilot effort in late October, and it has become part of a small but growing market of smarter pill dispensers.

“It’s a good idea,” said Dr. James Murphy, a pain specialist with offices in Louisville and southern Indiana. “It’s another way to control access to these powerful medications.”

The idea for the Pill Guard came from a local orthopedic surgeon who lost a patient to a drug overdose. Dr. Anthony McEldowney said one of his patients took a deadly dose of 20 Percocet pills after falling into a bout of depression.

McEldowney conceived of a container that would control dosage mechanically. A prescribing doctor would decide if the patient needs the Pill Guard based on their risk for dependence and addiction.

The pharmacist fills the device and plugs it into a computer to program the doctor’s instructions. To use it, the patient presses a button to “wake up” the system, which then tells them whether they have any pills left. They enter a PIN number, and the device turns, opens and allows the patient to get a pill.

“If somebody can operate these smartphones, they can operate the Pill Guard,” said Hayes. “It’s very simple to use.”

Anthony Westmoreland, owner of two southern Indiana pharmacies testing the Pill Guard project, said he’s getting mixed reviews, with some patients finding it too bulky and others questioning whether the extra steps are necessary to get their medication.

The device can hold 60 pills. It costs $92 for the first one prescribed, and $65 for each one after that.

Hayes said he’s talking with Humana about covering the product widely and believes many insurers will eventually pay for it because prevention is so much cheaper than dealing with prescription drug abuse.

Hayes said insurers face costs of $1,500 for each patient who becomes addicted, and federal officials say prescription drug abuse generates $70 billion in direct health care costs every year.

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

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