US tech giant Intel is collaborating with several healthcare companies to explore the application of blockchain technology for drug supply chain and distribution. The move comes after cryptocurrencies were criticized for aggravating the opioid crisis as they permit anonymous transactions.
Intel wants to use the technology to find where medicines slip through the cracks of the supply chain and to flag “double doctoring,” a practice where patients buy more drugs with the same prescription.
David Houlding, director of healthcare privacy and security at Intel Health and Life Sciences, told Bloomberg:
“It will vastly reduce the opioid epidemic. I would not say this will eliminate the opioid problem, but this will help.”
The experiment is currently in progress, with pharma giant Johnson & Johnson and drug wholesaler McKesson Corp among those entering simulated data into a blockchain. The pilot aims to track the full route of a drug – from the manufacturer to the patient.
Houlding revealed that the project might go live if it proves to be successful. Implementation can start by the end of this year.
The ultimate goal is to encourage all pharmaceutical companies and their global suppliers to move on blockchain. If that happens, US government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could provide better oversight.
The opioid crisis worsened after the 2000s. Opioids include prescription painkillers like OxyContin or fentanyl and illegal drugs such as heroin. About 115 people in the US die each day from an overdose.
Blockchain technology could help trace drugs from the manufacturer to the patient’s home while allowing total privacy. Blockchain-oriented startup iSolve, which has been Intel’s partner since 2017, is developing a system called BlockRx to connect drug companies to medical device makers.