According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total number of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. surpassed 142 million in 2020, and overdose deaths from opioids spiked from 56,064 in 2020 to 75,673 in 2021. Opioids such as prescription pain relievers are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths and the source of a national health crisis.
Four students from the School of Systems & Enterprises (SSE) — engineering management majors Sanjana Chopra, Fiona Matthews and Abigail Neel alongside industial and systems engineering major AnaMaria Laccetti — created a system addressing the opioid epidemic within their Senior Design project. Researching the factors of prescription misuse, the team will present their findings and recommendations at the Innovation Expo on April 29, 2022.
“My teammates and I hope to bring visibility to the nuanced issues of opioid prescribing and use,” says Chopra, an engineering management major. “Our project provides doctors and patients with a standardized method of prescribing and managing opioid medications.”
Engineering Prescription Decisions
The team identified that factors perpetuating the crisis are not limited to patient genetics and substance abuse history. Lax prescribing practices and the absence of education on prescription management additionally lead to misuse.
To reduce these avoidable factors, the SSE seniors created an innovative system that determines risk levels of the planned prescription to warn about unsafe prescribing and to allow for informed decision making. A model made for user interaction, the system features an interactive opioid dosage calculator and prescription database both displaying patient information such as underlying conditions, dosages and prior opioid use. Doctors will be supplied with an organized decision support system and prescription guidelines.
“The calculator functions within a larger opioid tracking system which uses a systems engineering approach to facilitate the interaction between components within the prescription database,” explained Neel. The system aims to increase trust and transparency in prescribing practices with the goal of managing pain in a more structured and educated manner.
Chopra, Laccetti, Matthews and Neel credited their Design 6 course with Professor Steven Hoffenson for shaping their project approach. Key takeaways from the class were to allow users’ needs to inform solutions and to conduct market research to create a holistic model.
To the Expo and Beyond
“I’m excited for the opportunity to show our prototype to professional entrepreneurs and receive their feedback,” said Laccetti. “Expanding our network to the healthcare community is an important step in bringing awareness to the issues surrounding opioid prescribing.”
Project collaboration additionally taught the student team valuable skills preparing them for real-world work environments.
“I learned a lot about problem solving, which will help in corporate settings where circumstances surrounding a project can change rapidly and quick adjustment is necessary to keep a project on track,” added Matthews. “From these lessons in technical design and implementation, market research and business planning, I feel ready to take on tough projects and roles in my career after graduation.”
The opioid tracking system team was additionally selected as a finalist to present at the Johnson and Johnson Engineering Showcase. The four seniors will have the opportunity to further network with engineering professionals and exhibit the innovative impact of an SSE education.