Chronic Pain Health Technology — 16 June 2012

A Chicago-area company is developing a smart medication dispenser that would track patient behavior and provide an early warning that opioid painkillers and other controlled substances are being misused. The device, called Divert-X, will tell physicians in real time when and where medications are being accessed by patients – which could potentially reduce the diversion and abuse of addictive drugs.

“The data we’ll be generating will be giving the physician a tool that he does not have to evaluate how a patient is behaving relative to his prescription, says Simon Sellers, Chief Executive Officer of Vatex Explorations.

The Divert-X dispenser would come with medication prepackaged in blister packs. Each blister is connected to a chip in the unit which records the timing of access for each dose. A GPS tracking system would also provide the dispenser’s location. The information would then be transmitted wirelessly to a central database that physicians, pharmacists or other registered users can access to determine if a patient is taking their medication as directed.

“If a patient seems to be adhering to the regimen, think of him getting a ‘green light’ from our system,” Sellers told American News Report. “If the patient receives our device containing opioids and immediately accesses all doses, then essentially an alarm goes off in the system. You can think of it as a ‘red light’ in that behavior is occurring which is not consistent with the prescribed regimen.”

Dispenser Would Track Patient Behavior

Sellers says Divert-X could also be used to spot early warning signs of a patient developing tolerance for  a drug or becoming addicted. He says health care providers could use the data to develop “scores” for patients – similar to FICO scores – to measure their compliance. Doctors would feel more comfortable prescribing opioids or other controlled substances to patients with high compliance scores because they know they’re less likely to misuse the drugs.

“The problem with drug diversion and opioid abuse generally has become so acute and so chronic that a large proportion of the trust between the patient and the physician has eroded,” explained Sellers. “Physicians are practicing very defensive medicine requiring patients to sign contracts, requiring them to have drug tests and things of that nature. We think our system will enhance the level of trust between a physician and a legitimate user of the prescribed drug.”

As previously reported in American News Report, the number and cost of urine drug screens has soared in recent years, adding significant costs to the health care system.

“We think the use of our system can displace to a significant extent urine or saliva tests,” says Sellers. “Urine testing is widely regarded as being fairly ineffective. You can go on Google for a few minutes and you can find ways to beat the system.”

Patients May Resent Being Monitored

One patient advocate sees flaws in the Divert-X system.

“What’s going to stop someone from removing their drugs on schedule, saving them up, and then selling them?  Absolutely nothing,” says Mark Collen. “Maybe they need to install a sensor in the patient’s stomach to make sure they ate the drug!”

Collen, who suffers from chronic pain, also believes many patients will resent the idea of being monitored.

“Yes, I believe patients will be offended,” Collen said in an email. “Why don’t they just hire a nanny to watch over every patient and hand out the meds as prescribed?”

At present, Vatex only has a prototype of a Divert-X dispenser and is seeking investors to further develop the device and fund a clinical study. CEO Sellers says the company is working with a potential vendor that has a medication dispenser that contains some of Divert-X’s features. That product is demonstrated in this video:

Sellers says the Divert-X system will not be classified as a medical device and will not require FDA approval. However, the company plans to conduct a clinical study of the system in southwest Virginia, where there are high rates of opioid abuse and diversion, to demonstrate its effectiveness and potential cost savings.

“The medical insurance companies themselves estimate that drug diversion costs them about $75 billion a year,” said Sellers. “Ideally, we’d love to see this become the standard of care for controlled substances because this is a very large market. I think ultimately the extent of which the product can be used will be driven by the magnitude of overall health care cost reductions that we will be able to demonstrate.”

Vatex hopes to lease the dispenser to patients through their insurance carriers and receive a monthly payment each time a prescription is filled using the device.

“There are a number of ideas like this out there. I think they all have merit,” a source with broad experience in the drug test industry told American News Report. “I do think that they have considerably overstated their market as anything like this would only be used with high risk pain patients — about 10 to 15 percent of patients prescribed opioids.  However, this would have a market with 100% of patients prescribed suboxone and also with methadone patients who are given their methadone to take home. I think there is also a big market for this in non-controlled medications.”


About Author

Pat Anson, Editor

Pat is Editor in Chief of American News Report. He is a veteran journalist and a former correspondent and producer for HealthWeek (PBS), Nightly Business Report (PBS) and other nationally syndicated shows. Pat has won numerous journalism awards, including a Golden Mike award for investigative reporting.

(3) Readers Comments

  1. People have different tolerances for pain. I wonder how a machine would measure the efficacy of the amount of drug dispensed to deaden pain. Also, if patients are overusing opioid, will there be an automatic consult to Psychiatry to help them deal with emotional pain? There should be. Dr. Gabor Mate’s work with drug addicts in Vancouver’s troubled east side, suggests that emotional pain or perhaps an undiagnosed concomitant disease may be precursors and/or triggers for overusing opioid drugs.Further, if emotional pain is found to be the trigger for opioid abuse, will patients have needed access to psychiatric health care, physio therapy or other healing modalities to deal with their very real pain? Currently in B.C. only those who can afford to pay high fees for service for psychiatry/psychology or physio/alternate methods of healing can access them. More modalities for healing the whole person need to be put in place and every person in need should be able to access them. Not only the rich.
    20 minutes ago · Like · 1

  2. Seems like this would be used for all patients – there’s no credible way to determine which are high risk. If risk could already be determined, we would not have this huge mess.

  3. Geesh. Talk about an invasion of privacy.