Design challenge 

The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history and it is currently the leading cause of Americans under the age of 50. 91 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids and heroin. The question our team faced was how does one begin to tackle such a pervasive and sensitive problem. Our team, after some initial secondary research and primary research, decided to intervene by framing our approach via the problem statement listed below.

How might we intervene in the prescription drug cycle to mitigate abuse and addiction?

Solution: Secure

Our solution, Secure, combines a computer interface for doctors to use to monitor their patients and a smart pill bottle that is used by patients. The bottle uses a fingerprint sensor that is used to assign the bottle to the prescribed patient. No one else can open the bottle other than the prescribed patient. When the patient squeezes the bottle, biometric sensors on the bottle detect the user's blood pressure and heart rate, bio signs that are affected by drug abuse. The bottle also contains a pill dispenser inside that only dispenses the right number of pills per the doctor prescribed time interval. The hope with all these sensors and control mechanisms is to prevent patients from taking more pills than required and to detect signs of addiction before a patient becomes addicted.

Final Prototype: image and design credit to Theresa and Laura

Group members

Laura Lopez

Theresa Utanto

My contributions

My contributions on the team were numerous. I read 5 articles on the opioid epidemic and watched some documentaries as part of our secondary research. For our primary research, I recruited 4 of the 9 participants. I also took the lead in 4 of the interviews and took notes in the remaining 5. When it came time to analyze the research, I took part in affinity diagramming and creating our research insights. I then created one third of the initial sketches for a design solution based on our research insights. For the final stages of our process, I aided in creating the pill bottle for the Wizard of Oz prototype and the final prototype, as well as taking a mockup of the interface that Theresa made and making it interactive in Axure.


Secondary research

Each person on the team conducted research and found several articles, documentaries, and resources on drug abuse and the opioid epidemic.

Interviews and guided storytelling

We recruited and interviewed 7 medical professionals and 2 recovering/recovered drug addicts. We also had each participant tell us stories about their own experiences. My contribution here was to interview four of our participants including 3 medical professionals and 1 recovering addict.

Synthesizing research

After the interviews were done. We developed a coding manual to code the data that we collected from our interviews. Each of us listened to 3-4 interviews and coded them. We then synthesized our research using the affinity diagramming process. This process aided us in grouping together common data points, finding themes (blue stickies), and developing our insights (pink stickies).

Developing insights

After we created our affinity diagram and grouped our notes into themes, we developed a number of research insights that we then narrowed down to 9 main insights.

  1. The systematic communication problem within the medical community and between medical professional and patients leads to inconsistency in treatment
  2. The isolating nature of addiction encourages associations with criminals and fosters criminal behavior.
  3. People with mental health issues are more likely to get addicted to drugs
  4. Success in recovery is correlated to privilege/status/wealth
  5. Society's stigma of drug addiction dehumanizes addicts and prevents intervention and recovery
  6. Lack of physical symptoms/signs of addiction cause people to underestimate and overlook addiction preventing early intervention and recovery
  7. Withdrawal is worse than an overdose in the eyes of an addict
  8. People turn to drugs because of the culture of instant gratification in america
  9. Addiction is a chronic brain disease but because it is not treated as such, treatment is not as effective as it could be

Design principles

From the research insights we created 4 design principles to guide our design process. These principles are:

  1. Help improve communication within the medical community and/or between medical professionals and patients
  2. Accessible and easily integrated into the activities of doctors and addicts
  3. Address addiction as both a physical and psychological disease
  4. Humanize addiction and addicts

Prototyping and testing

We created an initial prototype of Secure and tested it with 4 participants. Our team used the "Wizard of Oz" prototyping method for testing to validate our idea was plausible to users and to gain insight into what users thought of the concept of a pill bottle that would regulate their dosage for them. 

 The Prototype of our design. Image credit to theresa.

The Prototype of our design. Image credit to theresa.

Software / Skills used:

Illustrator, Axure RP Pro 8, Wizard of Oz Prototyping, Paper Prototyping, Sketching, User Research, Usability Testing, Affinity Diagramming, Semi-Structured Interviews, Story-Telling