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Systems turn to locking pill bottles as an early intervention in preventing substance abuse – a costly second-order effect of the pandemic

Systems turn to locking pill bottles as an early intervention in preventing substance abuse – a costly second-order effect of the pandemic

By Matt Davis, Co-Founder and President, DSD Advisors, LLC

Pre-COVID, the opioid epidemic’s annual cost was benchmarked at over $200 billion, with a third consisting of excess healthcare costs borne by the system’s payors, large employers and the providers of uncompensated care.  While COVID headlines displaced opioid epidemic news coverage over the last year, COVID’s economic impact on households, and its social impact on mental health, have quietly driven substantial increases in substance abuse across the country.  

Now, over a year into the pandemic, policy makers and government agencies are recognizing the problem. After food security, homelessness and job security, substance abuse is becoming very well differentiated as the most urgent second order effect of COVID-19. Providers, systems and policymakers need to be taking considerable steps now in order to address the growth in this acute problem.   

The earliest interventions usually generate the best results, and after reduced prescribing of opioids, the second earliest intervention in substance abuse is access control and prevention of diversion.  With 80% of heroin users starting with a prescription opioid, and 90% of abusers starting in their teenage years, preventing teen initiation is the earliest intervention possible and the highest impact place to start.  

Unfortunately, most households don’t fully understand the medication risks associated with opioids and other controlled substances, and consequently don’t secure their medications beyond storing them in the provided child-resistant bottle, designed only to prevent access among children 5 years old and younger.  As a result, the home medicine cabinet is the number one source for teen drug abuse, and has held this ignoble distinction for almost a decade.

Fortunately, policymakers at the state level and leading health systems have begun to take notice.  Ohio, often considered ground zero for the opioid epidemic, through the leadership of the General Assembly, is developing a program to evaluate the impact of dispensing opioids in locking vials across the state.  Under the proposal, pharmacies will be paid an additional dispensing fee for each prescription filled in a locking vial, and the state will commission an academic study to evaluate the impact.  

In Ohio, key stakeholders in the state’s healthcare ecosystem, including large employers, systems and payors, who bear the brunt of treatment costs are expected to participate in program development.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of opioid addiction and overdose treatment costs are for treatment of plan enrollees’ children, suggesting that teen prevention carries a very high savings potential for employers.  A coalition of providers is leading the development effort and has achieved key support from Ohio state leadership to fund the program. 

“The opioid epidemic continues to worsen as a result of COVID and I am confident this locking vial program will offer a new and innovative way to reduce instances of diversion in our communities,” said Ohio State Representative and Assistant Majority Whip Cindy Abrams, the sponsor of the budget amendment funding the program.  Stakeholders in other states have started to explore similar programs, with coalitions forming among payors and providers to assist in developing the programs.  

Improved packaging security is a key solution cited by experts on the epidemic at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and other institutions. New locking vials designed for use in pharmacy dispensing operations have been proven effective in early trials and certified as teen-resistant in third party evaluations with 100% effectiveness.  Because of the extremely low cost of vials relative to the extremely high cost of addiction treatment, the implementation of locking vial dispensing is expected to generate significant return on investment to large employers, payors, and providers of uncompensated care.  

Outside of government-funded pilots, several health systems are independently evaluating locking vial dispensing in their pharmacy operations, with a view towards cost savings in their employee plan membership and improved provider and patient satisfaction and safety.  Systems are considering varied implementations, for both controlled substances and medications with pediatric fatality risk from accidental poisoning. 

The current child-resistant standards for prescription vials were established in 1970, in response to children overdosing on aspirin, but haven’t been changed or updated since, despite the dramatically expanded universe of drugs on the market today.  The standards only require that 85% or more of children aged 5 and younger can’t open the container in a timed test and don’t have any guidelines for preventing access by older children or teenagers.  

“One standard doesn’t fit all when it comes to keeping dangerous medications out of the reach of older children and teenagers,” said Milton Cohen, President & CEO at Safe Rx, the leading manufacturer of locking vials.  The Company is in the process of recruiting additional system customers to test its vials in their pharmacy programs, focusing on IDNs and ACOs, while also marketing locking vial dispensing to large employers, which benefit the most from its programs.  “Payors have a shorter-term return horizon due to the turnover from sponsors changing plans.  Large employers are better positioned to capture the full benefit,” added Mr. Cohen.

Matt is Co-Founder and President of DSD Advisors, LLC, a full-service government relations firm that partners with public, private, and nonprofit clients of all sizes to achieve their public policy goals at the local, state and federal levels. He formerly served as the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s senior vice president for Government Affairs, where he led the organization’s efforts to advance the Chamber’s legislative agenda in the Greater Cincinnati region, Columbus and Washington, D.C. He lobbies elected officials on a number of issues, with a focus on tech innovation and healthcare, working with key stakeholders to think through new models for health care delivery. 

Safe Rx Brings Tamper-Evident Prescription Bottles to Military Service Members

Safe Rx Brings Tamper-Evident Prescription Bottles to Military Service Members


Safe Rx Brings Tamper-Evident Prescription Bottles to Military Service Members

March 31, 2021– Safe Rx has partnered with Leading Points Corporation to provide their patented tamper-evident, locking pill bottles to service members and their families through a series of focused initiatives.

The first step is an exclusive discount available to all service members and their families, including those on Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard, and Veterans. Safe Rx is pleased to offer our heroes and their families a 20% discount on all of its products. Please visit the military offer at www.safe-rx.com/pages/military.

The next step will include working to place the product in key military outlets, including installation exchanges and other retail stores, pharmacies, military hospitals and clinics, aid stations, and VA hospitals and veterans’ service locations.

According to the HHS, a staggering 10.1 million people 12 years and older misused opioids in 2019, and 9.7 million of them misused prescription pain relievers. Our U.S. military is not immune to these problems. In 2018, the Military Times reported that one in four U.S. military service members had an opioid prescription in the previous year. Furthermore, a study reported in Military Medicine showed that combat wounded veterans have a higher risk of becoming addicted to and abusing drugs prescribed to them while they were serving, during their discharge, or after, than their civilian counterparts.

Safe Rx and Leading Points are working in parallel to the great work being done by military behavioral health specialists to safeguard, secure, and manage prescription medicines in homes, barracks, hospitals and more to nurture a culture of safe prescription drug use and protection for fellow service members and families. 

“Using a product like Safe Rx is a proactive, protective measure,” Kevin Sullivan, president of Leading Points. “We know that military members and their families prioritize steps that keep others safe. That’s a big part of why they joined in the first place. Making this product more accessible across the board is just the right thing to do.”

“Service members, active duty and veterans, have put themselves in danger to keep us safe,” Jason McGowin, Safe Rx Vice President, said. “Anything we can do to keep them and their families safe from the growing opioid crisis is vital. Our product is only a part of a larger conversation and intervention that needs to happen society wide, but it’s so important that we do our part.”

For more information about our product or our Military and Government program, please feel free to contact us at Military@Safe-Rx.com

Startup Safe Rx is a lock for expansion after $2.7M funding round

Startup Safe Rx is a lock for expansion after $2.7M funding round

Safe Rx has locked down $2.65 million in its latest funding round.

The Greenwood Village-based startup, which makes prescription drug bottles with combination locks designed to curb opioid abuse, plans to use its newly raised capital to increase production and staff.

“The No. 1 source for teen prescription drug abuse, nationally and here in Colorado, is pilfering from our parents’ medicine cabinets,” said Safe Rx CEO Milton Cohen. “And it’s not going to stop anytime soon unless somebody does something about it. So, that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Safe Rx’s patented pill bottle is sold to health systems, such as Vail Health Hospital, pharmacy retailers and treatment centers that fill prescriptions directly into their bottles. Patients can also buy the bottles themselves in Target, Walmart, or on Amazon, as well as the company’s website.

Cohen said the state of Ohio is also looking at funding a statewide dispensing pilot of the company’s locking bottle next year.

“This is important because opioid abuse that starts in the medicine cabinet imposes huge costs on the U.S. healthcare system, with the excess care cost of pilfering estimated at $3 billion annually,” he added. “Locking pill bottles have been proven effective in early dispensing studies and are a low-cost early intervention that can generate significant treatment cost savings for large employers, payers, and providers with high rates of uncompensated care.”

A single locking pill bottle retails for $10, and customers can purchase up to a 10-pack for $80.

The startup, which launched its product in 2018, has 14 full-time employees and contractors in its headquarters at 6295 Greenwood Plaza Blvd. Cohen said they have already used the funds to hire three new employees to help increase business with health systems and pharmacies.

“It’s unlucky and lucky at the same time, but just about every one of our employees has a personal story in relation to opioid addiction,” Cohen said. “No neighborhood has been left untouched by this pandemic.”

This round brings Safe Rx’s total raised to around $8.65 million, according to Cohen. Investors included several investment groups of ultra-high-net-worth families, as well as pharmacy and healthcare industry executives.

“Given our mission, we have folks that invest for one reason or another because of a personal story attached, and we want to respect their privacy,” Cohen said.

Sean Serell, a practicing physician and father of two, founded the company in 2017 after growing frustrated with the increasing opioid crisis. He spent “countless amounts of time and money in research, design engineering, testing, education and outreach” to develop a simple, cost-effective solution to unauthorized access to prescription pills, according to the company’s website. Safe Rx’s locking pill bottles retail for $10 to $15.

While there aren’t many other locking pill bottles on the market, similar products include Safer Lock’s fourdigit combination locking cap, which retails for $18, as well as a prescription lock box ranging from $20 to $50, depending on the dimensions. Apothecary Products also sells an Ezy Dose container locked by a key to put your pill bottle in for $13.

Safe Rx sales slowed down in 2020 due to store closures, the cancellation of promotional events and without the usual back-to-school momentum, Cohen said. But the startup is gearing up for the “second-order effects of the pandemic,” he added.

“By second-order effects what we mean is people are losing their jobs, their houses, their food security, and one of the highest priorities in public health after those is substance abuse,” Cohen said. “Substance abuse is up 30 to 50 percent what it was pre-pandemic, so most health systems and other providers are really starting to focus on that effect. We are a key solution, particularly for our young people that have been experiencing a big dislocation because of the lack of school over the past year.”

In the next 90 days, Safe Rx also plans to start selling its products to military bases around the U.S.

“There’s a higher rate of prescribing in the military, which leads to a higher incidence of substance abuse and addiction as a result,” Cohen said.

Outside of its product line, Safe Rx is also working on licensing its cap enclosure technology and intellectual property to other consumer product brands in broader categories, he said.

“For instance, every nine minutes, a kid goes to the E.R. in the U.S. for over-the-counter poisoning,” Cohen said. “And separately, every 36 minutes a child goes to the E.R. in the U.S. from detergent pod poisoning. So, we’re looking to license our IP into additional product categories beyond prescription bottles.


Original article appears on the Business Den