New technology aims to prevent opioid overdoses

Is prescription drug packaging part of the problem?

By Debbie Strauss - Special Projects Producer, Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The opioid epidemic across the United States has drawn plenty of attention. But until recently, solutions to the problem have been hard to come by.

Just this week, Harris County announced it's suing drugmakers and doctors over the opioid epidemic.

Now, Channel 2 Investigates is looking into whether prescription drug packaging is also part of the problem.

Growing up, children often dream of what they will become: police officers, astronauts or maybe even sports heroes. Sean Kaden wanted to become a firefighter.

After graduating from the University of Texas, Kaden began living that dream, saving lives as an Austin firefighter. 

But he had a dark secret.

"I think I always knew I was an alcoholic and always had an addictive personality," Kaden said. "But something in me was curious and I wanted to try something else."

Kaden began stealing drugs from the back of the ambulance, without anyone knowing.

"Back in the ambulance, there was a lot of morphine and different prescriptions I could get my hands on," Kaden said.

Kaden quickly became addicted and moved onto heroin. He had to have it every day until he eventually overdosed at his own house.

"My friends, my brothers, the fire department (all) came to my house and they responded to the 911 call," Kaden said. "They walked in, I was unconscious, I wasn't breathing (and) they gave me something called Narcan. I immediately popped back up and I saw all my buddies and it was pretty embarrassing."

Kaden was fired from his job. His life spiraled out of control.

He lost his family's support and was even arrested.

On Jan. 18, Kaden decided to enter rehab at Cenikor in Deer Park.

He's now been clean for 11 months.

But what if there were a way to prevent Kaden's pill habit from ever becoming an addiction?

Experts believe that prescription drug packaging has long been part of the problem.

It has gone basically unchanged since the 1970s.

Now, politicians and pharmacists are being asked to tighten up the laws on pill bottle packaging to help curb abuse. At the forefront are TimerCaps.

"It's two-and-a-half times more likely that a child could be hurt by prescription pain meds than a handgun in the United States," said Larry Twersky, CEO of TimerCaps. "That means children are testing prescription pain meds and that's where they're starting down the road."

The TimerCaps are meant to stop addicts from secretly stealing opioids.

A timer on the cap lets you know the last time the pill bottle was opened.

Gonzalo Estrada IV, PharMD, a CVS pharmacist, sells TimerCaps in his store.

"As soon as you close the bottle and snap the cap in, it actually lets you know how many seconds have gone by," Estrada said. "As soon as you open the medication, the timer stops and resets. If you're away from the home for an extended period of time and you notice the timer doesn't really line up with when you took your medication, you can go ahead and look into that."

Kaden's reaction?

"Ooh! That's a good idea," he said. "I guess it helps people keep track of their own prescription. If, say in the past, I saw a bottle, I don't care how tamper-proof they said it was -- I’d get into it. And I could get into it without anybody knowing. I’d even replace them with similar looking pills. Whatever I could do sneakily, I would do, so this would have me stumped."

Still, TimerCaps alone are not going to stop everyone from attempting to steal powerful opioid narcotics.  

"The TimerCaps don't lock, so they can't prevent someone from getting into them," Estrada said. "But they do let you know if someone was in your medication."

The special caps also target senior citizens by helping them remember when they last took their medication.

You can buy TimerCaps at your local pharmacy or even online.

RELATED: Opioid Nation coverage

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