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BYU Alumni Offer a Solution to the Opioid Crisis

Drug overdose deaths have surged since the pandemic. Discussion about the problem has risen as well, and people want a solution. Two BYU Alumni plan to provide that.

A blonde high school boy walked around with a necessary notebook in his backpack. Paper upon paper contained the ideas he had for innovations, businesses, and anything else that came to him. Caleb Greaves wanted to make a difference. Help others. So, after he graduated high school in 2013, he chose to attend BYU and major in economics, hoping at some point he could create a start-up and help solve a widespread problem.

Greaves continued his journaling in college. He wrote down any problems he noticed, whether local or global, and tried to invent a solution for each one. Ideas were not only scratched onto his notebook but typed into his computer. The beginning of a nation-altering innovation began with a few clicks on the keyboard and an idea for how to solve an increasing issue: The opioid crisis.

The statistics surrounding drug overdose deaths were on the rise but spiked over the pandemic. According to the C.D.C., these deaths increased by 28.5 percent in a 12-month period ending in April 2021. The number of people dying from this cause rose from 78,056 to over 100,000. Opioids contribute largely to this number. For decades, the institution Purdue Pharma knew about the significant abuse of OxContin, a medication for severe pain released in 1996. They kept their knowledge to themselves, letting the addicting drugs leak out into the nation. Many see this fraudulent activity as the cause for the current epidemic. Whatever the cause, Greaves knew what he needed to prevent: Prescription addiction.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A year before the pandemic, Greaves noticed a disconnect in delivering medication to patients. Hospitals kept opioid pills watched closely by trained and licensed employees. Pharmacies kept opioid pills under lock and key. Patients kept them at home, with an easily unscrewable lid as the only precaution and protector. If a device could add security to accessing pills appropriately, thousands could continue their lives as previous to their opioid prescription, with minimal risk of addiction. A few other companies recognized this need for a device, but none had succeeded in incorporating an additional safeguard. They either created cheap, ineffective solutions, or they focused on preventing addicts from getting into the bottle, creating expensive solutions that wouldn’t always work.

From doing the research on how accessible drugs were and from talking to those who had direct experiences with the situation, Greaves received the same reiterations. Unfortunately, if someone was already addicted, they had many easy options for accessing what they wanted. So, rather than focus on reversing the addiction or preventing the addicts access, Greaves focused on the person before the prescription.

Many patients fell into this addictive pill-popping pattern unknowingly. They felt pain, so they took their prescribed amount…but they still felt pain, so they took one more pill, and then maybe two more the next time. The pills increased and the time in-between doses decreased, and somehow, an injury or surgery led to an addiction. So, going forward, Greaves decided the focus for his new company, Dosara: “We can't worry about keeping people with addictions out—we care about preventing addiction.”

Greaves knew he couldn’t manufacture the mechanics on his own, so he searched for an engineer. As he reached out to various students, many agreed to integrate their ideas into the innovation’s mechanisms, but few had a desire to go beyond the technical aspect. Yet, Greaves wanted something more than an engineering assistant––he wanted a cofounder. Someone invested in the project and its cause.

From top to bottom: Ryan Tanner, Caleb Greaves.

After working with five different engineers for more than a year, a fellow student gave Greaves the LinkedIn information for a BYU mechanical engineering alum. Greaves pulled up the profile, and then he messaged Ryan Tanner. Although Tanner did not see it for two months, he read the message and agreed. The opioid crisis needed attention. From that point on, the two worked together as they tried to accomplish their long-term 4-step plan: engineer, pilot and test, incorporate into community programs, and create a national tipping point.

Focusing on mechanical designs, they used a 3D printer to create their first prototype. After fixing the functionality and adding in electronics, they produced a block container for a prescription bottle. Though they had solved the problem of overdosing or abusing the drugs, no user could figure out how to use it in the test runs. That meant no access to any pills, prescribed or not. The two quickly moved forward with the intent to scale down the size and simplify, and this resulted in a locking cap design.

The lock works on a timer based on prescription instructions of how often to take the medication. When the digital timer hits 0:00, the user can disperse the prescribed amount of pills by spinning the lower half of the lock and temporarily opening a chute. A sensor triggers the lock once the user receives their prescription, and the timer resets.

This time, the function not only worked, but it made sense. Both Greaves and Tanner were excited to have created something new that could change prescription delivery. “The ultimate goal is to have people stop misusing opioids…” Tanner said, “And I feel like we’re solving a problem differently, or a different problem than what other people are trying to solve.”

As the idea and technology developed, Greaves entered his innovation in Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY), an annual student competition hosted by the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and the Weidman Center for Global Leadership, in partnership with the BYU Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. Year after year, he enlisted his innovation in SIOY and received tips from mentors and opportunities to polish his presentation. By his third year participating, he had made it to the finals and received $4000 funding for Dosara.

With addiction surging throughout the nation, Dosara could not come any sooner. Now both graduated, Greaves and Tanner will finish adjusting the bottles system for scheduling and move forward with their plan to incorporate their innovation into community programs. With the help of their current mentors, startup experts Barry Hanover and David Robinson, they have confidence that Dosara can make the change that we all want to see: Prevent addiction. Stop the rise. Save lives.

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