June 24, 2017  Last Update: December 21, 2016, 11:10 pm

Simple Thinking : Locking Pill Bottles

combination lock on pill bottle

Did someone really think this was a priority for battling prescription drug addiction?

For a mere $17.99 you can feel better about having done something to help prevent drug abuse. That’s right, just $17.99 buys you a locking prescription pill container with a built-in 4 digit lock cyclinder. Buy one, and BAM! you’ve done your part to help prevent drug abuse.

Some lawmakers are so convinced this will help, Illinois is now providing financial incentives for pharmacies to adopt the technology when dispensing more addictive prescription pain killers like Vicodin and hydrocodone.

Under the new law, pharmacies can choose to dispense pills in a bottle capped with an alphanumeric combination that allows only the person with the prescription — or the code — access to the medicine.
- Chicago Tribune

According to Chicago Tribune, a former Illinois  prosecutor sponsored the bill that is now law. Michael Zalewski believes it will help prevent the pill stealing that happens in homes. Most teens in his research have admitted they get their pills from home medicine cabinets.

Not any more! Because the pill bottles will have a combination lock on them! Seriously??

Some hard data: From the Trib, it seems Illinois is kicking in $150,000 of state money to give to pharmacies, who are expected to have to pay $3-$5 per bottle for the technology. Since Safer Lock has a patent, I guess the California student inventor of this device will get the profits, provided he can get his costs down so a $3-$5 wholesale price is profitable (the previously noted $17.99 is the retail price on the Safer Lock website).

Now for the Preaching Part : Come on, folks… really?

First thought here in the JohnsAddiction studios was : “great, so now instead of stealing 1 or 2 pills hoping to slip by unnoticed, teens will be forced to steel the entire bottle“. That will be not much of an issue for the high-risk kids seriously dabbling in pain killers.

In fact, an informal poll of this office suggests that plastic pill bottles with seriously difficult to open tops will probably accelerate the problem, because teens stuck with  25-30 pills instead of 1 or 2 are more likely to use more, or sell them to friends or even worse, a local drug dealer.

To Be Fair : I don’t want to mock someone’s good intentions. After all, the inventor of these locking caps lost a brother to addiction. But when our lawmakers are allocating 6 figures to things like this, it just demands a little hopeful mockery. Is this really the best we can do with that money? Is this really what we want to put forth as a good idea to help battle prescription pain killer addiction?

Experts Chime In

We reached out to one of our favorite addiction specialists, Sunrise Detox in Ft. Lauderdale. Sunrise Detox has been on the front lines of the prescription painkiller addiction epidemic, and Dr. Morgan Poncy developed the Sunrise Detox protocols back when opiates and opioids were first overwhelming addiction treatment centers in Florida 8 years ago (the “pill mill” era).  We didn’t highlight this editorial, we just asked Sunrise about the concept of requiring combination locks on pill bottles. The response? There are probably better ways to make a difference:

Combination locks on plastic bottles might deter some casual experimentation, but the real problem is the abuse of these powerful drugs, including the over-prescribing that leaves excess inventory sitting around in medicine cabinets where, if stolen, they aren't missed.

That idea is backed by some data about drug take-back Sunrise has published… apparently when the public is urged to return unused drugs from their homes, the amount they bring in is staggering (check out these numbers from Atlanta, New Jersey, and Florida).

Other (better?) Ways to Spend that Money:

  • Address the fact that parents and siblings seem more willing to lock the pill bottles than discuss the problem of abusing drugs, and stealing medicines from others in the same household.
  • Address the fact that medicine cabinets are full of unused / unneeded prescription pain killers that are addicting in the wrong hands.
  • Address the fact that some doctors, dentists, and regulated allied health professionals are quick to prescribe potentially addicting painkillers containing hydrocodone, oxycodone, and opiates even when they are unlikely to be necessary, and the fact that these professionals profit from the prescribing.
  • Address the fact that some teens have nothing better to do, or feel the need to explore personal use of powerful unprescribed medicines, or otherwise are inclined to abuse these drugs.
Instead of locking pill bottles, why not spend on education and awareness of the risks of addiction? And treatment?
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Lock the medicine cabinet = good idea. Combination locks on individual pill bottles? Not so much.

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