This spring, tech manufacturer Intel will lead several partner firms, including Johnson & Johnson, in testing a simulated version of a blockchain platform designed to track drugs across the supply chain.
If a live version of the system were to be rolled out, it would track drugs from their point of manufacture to their point of distribution, possibly aided by the use of sensors. This could help investigators understand where to start looking for drugs that disappear from the supply chain. The platform could also help reveal cases of so-called "double-doctoring," whereby several doctors provide a single patient with multiple prescriptions for the same drug.
In the upcoming phase of the project, however, pilot participants will enter data in a way that merely simulates medication's movement through the supply chain. If the tests go well, the system could see a limited deployment in a live setting later this year.
David Houlding, the director of healthcare privacy and security at Intel Health and Life Sciences, said he does not believe the platform "will eliminate the opioid problem, but [it] will help." To be maximally effective, he argued, it would have to be deployed "worldwide" rather than just in the US, not least because many opioids on the US market come from overseas.
The project is to take place under the auspices of the Center for Supply Chain Studies, with the goal of bringing pharmaceutical firms into compliance with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act, passed in 2013. The law calls for the establishment of an "electronic, interoperable system to identify and trace certain prescription drugs as they are distributed in the United States."
In an interview with ETHNews last year, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mentioned that his agency was also looking into blockchain solutions that could combat the US opioid crisis through data tracking and information sharing.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is apparently interested in the project as well. Agency spokeswoman Tara Rabin explained that because "electronic medical records contain information on prescription refill behavior, use of blockchain technology may add to the FDA's understanding of how prescription opioids are being abused and spread illicitly into our communities."