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Atlanta startup creates pill-dispensing device to prevent addiction


Georgia has one of the highest numbers of prescription opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., so it’s only natural that local businesses would seek a solution.

Intent Solutions, a startup in Atlanta, has created a pill bottle called Take As Directed (tad). The device dispenses a set dosage of a medication only when a patient is supposed to take it, and it has a biometric fingerprint scanner so no one but the patient can access the medication. Take As Directed also streams all that data to the cloud, so clinicians and researchers can learn more about how people take medicine.

It remains to be seen whether tad will achieve its goal of making it harder for people to abuse prescription opioids. Intent will deploy its first commercial device April 1. The company is distributing 300 tad devices to its customers, which include a large hospice organization and a population health management company. Intent charges for its services, not the actual tad, so depending on how many devices a customer orders and how long each one is used, the cost can range from $1 to $5 a day.

Sam Zamarripa, CEO of Intent and a former Georgia state senator, spoke with Crain’s Atlanta about tad and how Georgia businesses have responded to the opioid crisis.

Why did you decide to create a device to focus on the opioid crisis?

One of our advisory directors who was a friend and acquaintance of the two founders of the company…they had a friend in common who had a direct experience with prescription opioids. He had an accident and he had hip surgery. He was prescribed the medications and he took them and over the course of about seven or eight months, he became addicted. It nearly ruined his life, and he’s been in recovery from that for seven years, so he has a good story to tell. His view was that an open bottle is basically an invitation to take more medicine than you need.

It’s a simple premise that we all operate with, [which] is if one aspirin pill is good, two is better, especially if you’re in pain. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t become three or four or five because prescription opioids, by their very nature, are addictive. That addiction is a chemical addiction that’s very difficult to resist. [This person’s] view is if he had a tool or technology that would have restricted his access to the medications, yet allowed him to have medications as they were prescribed, he felt like it would have possibly eliminated his addiction or would have made it avoidable…

We spent almost a year studying the market. We talked to hundreds of people – doctors and physicians, researchers and pharmaceutical companies – about this issue, and there seemed to be an interest in it, and so we funded the company.

How do you see tad fitting into opioid addiction prevention methods?

If you think about the evolution of the pill bottle – all the way from a little cup, a little glass, an open vial, to plastic – the first major innovations with the pill bottle came with the [Poison Prevention Packaging Act] and then later with the Tylenol scare [in 1982]… The Tylenol scare was a few people that died in Chicago [after taking Tylenol laced with potassium cyanide] and within a matter of months, every cap in America was then not only child-proof. It was sealed. Those innovations were two of the last big innovations in how we manage the vile itself.

Our feeling is that technologies like ours have a big role to play in improving adherence. So in the opioid space, we know – and you can read all the literature – there’s a consensus that pain is a very real thing and if you have it, you know it. The good thing about prescription opioids is that they work. They can relieve pain in people that are suffering with chronic pain. 

Our device just gives them a level of safety that didn’t exist before, and it gives their doctors the ability to monitor them more carefully. We think that tad improves the outcome, the intended outcome, of the medication.

How can businesses address the opioid crisis?

Let’s think about it this way: The wonderful thing about technology, both hardware and software, is it allows us to do things more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to do. If you look at the current system there are a lot of moving parts. And in terms of medications that have addictive properties, like oxycodone and others, we think there’s a lot of room for innovation.

So, today for example, most states have what’s called a [prescription drug monitoring program]. That’s a system for reporting the number of medications a person has been prescribed. That system is actually relatively new, but it gives a way of making sure that a single individual is not shopping prescriptions from one pharmacist to another. That’s a good innovation.

If the broader industry were an automobile, just a car moving down the highway, think about all the safety innovations that have been put into cars that have made them safer like the seat belt, but also air bags. All of those innovations are technologies in the same way tad is a technology that improves the safety and the intended use of medications. It is safety belt. It is an air bag. It is a technology that businesses can deploy.