Updated: Sep 8, 2020
With so much attention being placed on the COVID crisis, it’s easy to forget that there are still significant and far-reaching medical problems that have nothing to do with the pandemic. But Ryan Jarvis will never forget the challenges of complicated medical treatment.
Asked to carry responsibilities beyond his years, Jarvis, a rising senior at the University of Portland, has been a witness to the tragedy of prescription medication misuse.
“Addiction is still a very big thing,” Jarvis said, referring to the opioid epidemic. “And when you kind of see it up close, it kind of makes you think that, oh, god, how can I let this happen to people?"
Not one to wait around for solutions, Jarvis, an accounting major and entrepreneur, decided to act. So he invented Dose, a low-cost prescription pill dispenser that could help to prevent opioid addiction before it even starts.
About the size of a Hydro Flask, the Dose would replace the typical drug container filled at the pharmacy with a rectangular container that patients place into a locked, computer-controlled, Bluetooth-enabled device that will dispense only the amount prescribed at the appropriate interval as directed by a physician.
Whether it’s an antidepressant, a stimulant medication, or an opioid pain reliever, patients will only be able to access what is medically directed at the time they need it.
Drug abuse has had perhaps an outsized effect on Jarvis’ life. In college, a friend died from an overdose, an event that has left Jarvis shaken. “He wasn't even on opioids,” Jarvis said. “Just, just the—you know, seeing him in the hospital bed.” Another acquaintance in his network overdosed on prescription opiates after a hockey accident required surgery. And as Jarvis’ awareness expanded, he learned that the opioid epidemic is a far-reaching problem.
According to Jarvis, 130 people a day overdose on opioid medication. It only takes one or two pills to actually get hooked. And Jarvis thinks that if patients had just a few more minutes to think about their decision, they might change their mind about the one extra pill that might put them over the edge.
“I think that if we can be that blockade, you know, that 5-, 10-minute blockade where you're just really contemplating what you're doing, it can drastically help these people."
Jarvis’ invention, Dose, is based on research out of the U.K. that recommended packaging that makes it more challenging to access prescription medication. The theory suggests that, by making it harder to access more pills than patients need at one time, they will have to think longer about whether the decision they’re making is right.
“The time that it takes for somebody to act that out might be the time that they really take a second thought to realize what they're doing and hopefully drastically lower the misusage of that medication,” Jarvis said.
Misusage, Jarvis suggested, is important because abuse and addiction is not the only challenge of prescription medication, nor is it the only challenge Jarvis designed Dose to solve. Dose is also designed with patients in mind who have complex medical diagnoses and medication schemes, like kidney failure.
During the last years of her life, Jarvis’ grandmother moved in with Jarvis, his mother, and his younger brother. She had been diagnosed with kidney failure, and it was Jarvis’ responsibility to shuttle her to and from dialysis appointments three times a week while juggling his schoolwork and taking care of his younger brother.
“She would have a medication that she would have to take, and the doctor would call one day and say, 'You can't take that anymore,'” Jarvis said. “But she had already put that into her entire pillbox that she had for the whole month.”
Jarvis said she couldn’t see. “As a 16, 17 year old, I remember sitting there trying to take out each individual pill out of her pill box. And I just looked at this whole process and the fact that a lot of people need this, a lot of people need something that can be much more convenient."
By the time college arrived and Jarvis learned more about the insidiousness and tragedy of drug abuse, he began to obsess over a solution. "I just remember sitting in my sophomore accounting class and just kind of sitting there sketching and sketching, trying to come up with, like, how can I fix this issue?"
Although young, Jarvis has come a long way, and with Dose, he thinks he has a valuable solution. In addition to the Dose station, Jarvis designed attachments that expand the dispenser’s capacity for patients with multiple prescriptions, and a smaller, portable Dose device will allow patients to carry their prescriptions with them.
And now that Jarvis has some industry exposure, he believes that Dose has a real opportunity. In October of 2019, he traveled to New York to pitch his idea to heads of hospitals, CEOs, and other stakeholders.
“That was amazing,” Jarvis said. “I think that’s when I really started believing in myself and believing in my product.”