More than 44,000 American die from drug overdoses, which includes 16,000 deaths from prescription drugs according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription painkillers have become so widely misused and abused than many doctors hesitate to prescribe them. Experts at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy challenged a team of John Hopkins undergraduate mechanical engineers to design and build a theft and tamper resistant pill dispenser. What they came up with was a pill dispenser prototype that features a fingerprint scanner.
The tamper resistant pill dispenser prototype features a fingerprint scanner which verifies the patient’s identity and then releases the correct dosage only within the prescribe time frame. “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,” says Kavi Bhalla, assistant professor at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the team’s mentors for the project.
The device weighs 2.57 pounds and is 9.25 inches tall. The electronic prototype has a fingerprint sensor and circuitry to ensure that drugs are dispensed only to prescribed patient at the prescribed intervals and in the prescribed dosage. The cylindrical divice is built of the same kind of super tough steel alloy used in aircraft landing gear and has the same fingerprint sensor used in some iPhones. “The device starts to work when the patient scans in his or her fingerprint. This rotates a disc, which picks up a pill from a loaded cartridge and empties it into the exit channel. The pill falls down the channel and lands on a platform where the patient can see the pill has been dispensed. The patient then tilts the device and catches the pill in their hand,” explains Megan Carney, a student who worked on the project.
The undergraduates spent their senior year researching, designing, building and testing this device. The pill dispenser can hold 60 tablets. They unveiled their creation at the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Senior Design Day, an every event held every year at the end of the spring semester. Andrea Gielen, director of the John Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the team’s mentors, said she and Bhalla were so impressed with the design that they have a proposal pending with the National Institutes of Health to further develop and test the prototype. There’s no idea as to when a commercial model will be available for the masses though, but it sure will be worth checking it out.