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South Fayette students design product to curb drug abuse

| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 1:03 p.m.
South Fayette High School students (from left) Michael Kugler, Suraj Bokil, Christopher Rodi and Joshua Milteer present their project, LockRX, at the PA Governor’s STEM Challenge.
South Fayette High School students (from left) Michael Kugler, Suraj Bokil, Christopher Rodi and Joshua Milteer present their project, LockRX, at the PA Governor’s STEM Challenge.

A group of South Fayette High School students hope their school project will help curb the nation's opioid epidemic.

Tasked last year with finding a solution to a problem in the state as a part of the PA Governor's STEM Challenge, students at South Fayette created LockRX, a prescription drug container with a biometric lock that only dispenses the correct dosage of medicine when activated by a patient's fingerprint scan. They spent six months brainstorming, designing and creating the product for the challenge.

Last month, a video they made about the creation of the product won the Digital Promise filmMAKER Challenge. The students traveled to New York City to present the video and product at the World Maker Faire on Sept. 23.

"It was more than any old school project. It was a real world opportunity to impact many lives," said senior Michael Kugler, 17.

As they searched for a problem that affects many Pennsylvanians for the project, the students said they discovered the harsh statistics about deaths related to opioid use and drug addiction.

"We saw that even people that attended our school were dying from opioid abuse ... and we kind of just realized that this is something we need to look into," said senior Chris Rodi, 17.

Through their research, the students found that drug addiction often starts in the home. A child with an athletic injury might be prescribed pain medication. They take the pills, then they want more. It's in the medicine cabinet. They have easy access. And they can become addicted.

"Because there's no deterrent on the traditional pill bottle, the access is unlimited and abuse is very easy to get caught up in," said South Fayette English teacher James Hausman III, who oversaw the project. "We wanted to create a deterrent that would prevent that easy access and hopefully, then, prevent people's addictions from starting."

Once they had the idea, that's when the hard part began. There was a month where they hardly slept.

"It was definitely a lot of crunching. We had to find different ways to do things — from 3D printing to programming," said sophomore Suraj Bokil, 15. "It was a journey."

Each member of the team had their strengths: from computer coding to film making to engineering to design.

The first design was made from a block of wood and had a hook coming from it, the students said as they laughed about their initial creations.

They sketched ideas and crafted different prototypes, always working together.

"Our team chemistry is really good," Bokil said. "Whenever I had problems with the programming, I could go to someone else and they would help me even if it wasn't their main area of expertise."

They had a common goal: they wanted to make a product that would make a difference in the world.

"This was really a group of people who share a vision and have different strengths in different areas who can accomplish something that will possibly save lives," said junior Josh Milteer, 16.

The group has a patent pending on the product.

"From this point, really, we would like to get the patent, find someone that would invest in the idea and then we would be able to produce enough to do a trial and then get approval for it from the FDA because it is a medication device," Hausman said.

From there, they will work on making the product smaller and more accessible.

"We know with some advanced technology that we can put it into your pocket," Hausman said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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