Med Vault aims to eliminate painkiller abuse


April 19, 2013

Brigham Young University's Team Med Vault, with their painkiller-dispensing device

Brigham Young University's Team Med Vault, with their painkiller-dispensing device

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It’s an unfortunate fact that prescription painkiller abuse is on the rise. In some cases people are taking the drugs to get high, while in others, patients simply want more relief than their prescription allows. In either scenario, the results are often fatal. That’s why a group of engineering students from Brigham Young University have created a lockable medication-dispensing device known as the Med Vault.

The students made the device as part of the annual BYU Engineering Capstone program, in which companies sponsor student teams to create products that meet their needs. Blackstone, the company that sponsored the Med Vault team, wanted something to reduce the number of deaths due to overdoses of prescription painkillers.

The idea behind Med Vault is that the patient will start by taking it to a pharmacy, where the pharmacist fills it with the desired medication – it accommodates a wide variety of pill sizes and shapes. The device is then plugged into a computer via USB cable, allowing the patient’s doctor to remotely enter the dosage information.

From that point on it locks itself closed, and will only make pills available on a schedule that allows for the prescribed dosage. Additionally, patients must enter a numerical code in order to actually receive each dose.

Med Vault is break- and tamper-resistant, and will show signs of damage if the patient tries to open it – presumably it automatically unlocks itself when the prescription is used up.

Blackstone president Chris Blackburn, a Las Vegas paramedic who has responded to his fair share of overdoses, plans on taking the device into production.

Source: Brigham Young University via Gizmodo

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

A good idea but what is there to stop someone revising the dispensing setup from another computer? As long as the USB port is available ther is the ability to hack it.


@ivan4: USB access is, of course, password protected. With a proper security method this device can be made virtually unbreakable. Well, apart from physically breaking the device.

Joris van den Heuvel

Aside from people who intentionally OD simply allowing doctors to stop the pain rather than just reduce it to "tolerable" levels would solve the problem.


So let me get this straight. A bunch of happy smiling people are proud of building a device that stops people from relieving pain ?


Why are all these people smiling??...the have the hack to the vault don't they??

Sam Joy

Seriously?!?! You cannot fix: Stupid, Darwin, Irresponsible, Addicted, etc.

Aside from the 10% of people who could be fooled by this (that want to abuse their drugs (ignoring all $$ discussions)), it's only going to take 10 seconds for the next junky to realize they get N pills/day, if we wait N days we get N^n pills!!


Let's instead spend our cycles trying to cure stupid. The payout will be much more glorious.


@nicho: No. They are proud of creating a device that prevents people from killing themselves with dangerous medication, and preventing people using them like street drugs because they are narcotic. If the dosage rates the physician prescribed are not meeting the pain management needs of the patient he or she needs to work with a trained physician to get the right medication and dosages to manage the pain not self prescribe more pills without knowing what the consequences will be. For instance a non-narcotic pain killer that can surprise you is acetaminophen it will cause liver damage if you take more than 4000MG in a 24 hour period. That’s only four doses of two 500mg pills. When you get into the high end pain killers and narcotic pain killers they are vastly more dangerous than that.

I personally applaud this device, provided it works as described. I have had friends who were addicted to pain killers to the point where they would literally break their own leg to get more. One young lady has a note on her medical file preventing anything stronger than Tylenol due to her having “tripped on the steps” five times in the same year and breaking her ankle every time. The password requirement would also prevent her from doing what she did later, and just steal them from friends and family. The regulated dosage would, as the article mentions, prevent people from killing themselves by taking too much.


How will it stand up to a skill saw ? most abusers are smart enough to figure out how to break into anything.

Jay Finke

So tell me what happens when the power fails and the patient cannot retrieve said medication?.....


I like it and want one -I use hydrocodone to help with my back problems

Dennis Chevalier

This is a good solution to a huge problem. It does bring up some questions. How does the cost of such a device work into the current health care coverage? What happens if you are in grave pain and you are 5 minutes away from the next available dosage, are you subject to just suffering until the next available dosage is released? What if you are a full hour away from the next available dose and you are in pain? What happens to the unit when you miss a dose, does it release a second (double) dose? How does it handle overnight sleeping? Can you get the dosage increased remotely by the doctor, or does the patient have to go back in to the pharmacist to have them do it? After asking these questions, I am thinking perhaps this is not a good solution after all.

Paul Anthony

This would be nice as a modular unit where more than one med could be dispensed. This would keep the more dangerous meds from being taken too often, and the other meds (like psychotropics) would be on schedule. Sure, there are tray systems for that, but that assumes lucid/rational patients. Of course this might require that the bulk meds are kept in a contolled environment (pharmacy, caregiver) rather than in the home.

Bruce H. Anderson

Outstanding idea for those of us living in constant pain because we cant control narcotics.


There are jackwads who actually worry that people who are dying in great pain might become addicted if they are given enough morphine to control their pain.


I have very mixed feelings about this. There are people who are on controlled substances whose family members have stolen those medications for their own use or for sale. Other than the fact that the medications in this container are dispensed in a programmed dosage, there is nothing other than a numerical code to prevent dispensed pills from being stolen - or the device itself, for that matter. So I'm not sure that problem is solved.

As for nanny-dosing, yes, it is nice to know that physicians and pharmacists have another weapon in their arsenal (other than under-prescribing) to address their liability concerns. Will that make them more likely to prescribe true pain-relieving doses?

As someone who has witnessed someone in true pain (end-stage cancer) and have been in pain myself (fibromyalgia), I am very frustrated with the lack of effective care for chronic pain, although I am currently in a fairly long-term lack of flares, so I am unmedicated. When my care provider has prescribed medication, there is a certain amount of lee-way: 1 to 2 pills, every 4-6 hours. Would I have to chuck something like that in my purse and lug around everywhere if I weren't home to stand over it at the right time? Otherwise, how could I carry appropriate pain meds with me if I were traveling? Would I have a choice of 1 or 2 pills? Could I put one back if I was dispensed 2? Or would the device itself just lead to pill hoarding?

As I said, very mixed reaction.

Lori Miranda

As for why the people are smiling, this is a team of engineering students that was given a design problem. And no doubt, they solved it within the parameters of the 'problem' as it was presented. It is a solution - but very few design problems are entirely solved on the first pass. Review by users is critical to a workable product. They look very young, and few people their age really understand about chronic pain and the climate of fear of addiction (medical professionals) or the anger of undertreatment (patients).

Lori Miranda
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