7News Investigates: Rebuilding the Bottle To Fight Opioid Abuse

It’s a small but potentially life-saving way to battle the vicious opioid abuse epidemic currently ravaging Massachusetts: Changing how prescription pills are packaged.

Opioid-related overdoses claim the lives of five people in Massachusetts every day.

“It’s tantamount to a jumbo jet crashing and killing people every other day in America,” said Larry Twersky, CEO of TimerCap.

Twersky’s own mother was gripped by addiction to painkillers.

“Most people don’t know who in the household might be addicted,” Twersky said.

That’s part of the reason he helped launch TimerCap. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a sort of stopwatch that shows how long it’s been since a pill bottle was opened.

“You just open it up, and you close it, and it remembers,” Twersky said. “Imagine you came back after a hard day, and you saw that this said, ‘Three hours.’ You’d know to the exact minute if somebody’s been in your medication.”

The caps, which are available at CVS and other pharmacies, are part of a broader, nationwide effort to rebuild the bottle to help stop addiction.

Allison Burns is a pharmacist on the front lines. She works with seven addiction treatment centers in the Boston area.

“Every patient that I’ve shown the packaging to that I use, they’re like, ‘Wow! Why didn’t I have this before?’” Burns said.

It’s called “blister packaging,” and it holds one pill per pocket, instead of dozens of doses shoved into one bottle.

Burns said that for people like her, overseeing dozens of patients struggling with addiction and taking multiple medications, it’s a game-changer. That’s because it’s crystal clear if even one pill goes missing.

Burns said that since she started using blister packaging earlier this year, there hasn’t been one pill that’s gone unaccounted for.

“Which is unheard of in a residential treatment facility,” Burns said.

Innovations like those have caught the attention of the FDA. The agency has formed a task force on packaging designed to deter opioid abuse. Blister packaging, and bottles that track and limit access, are among the concepts being studied.

Burns said they’re already helping opioid addicts get a firmer grip on sobriety.

“You should believe in yourself. And the packaging, believe it or not, gives them that control,” Burns said.

Experts are also working on technology that tracks the location of pill bottles in real time. But the FDA wants more hard evidence on which strategies actually cut opioid abuse before endorsing any specific packaging.

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