Writer: Cassie McClure, 575-312-3242, firstname.lastname@example.org
As of 2018, New Mexico had the 15th highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. A New Mexican has died every 18 hours; two out of three drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.
Project Vita Health, with the support of Arrowhead Innovation Fund (AIF), is building a tamper-proof, measured release device for opioid prescriptions in hopes of stemming abuse and increasing oversight.
Pascual Camacho, CEO of Project Vita Health, said he was shocked to see the sheer volume of pills prescribed to a family member.
“I grew concerned that there was a prescription of 30 opioids and only one or two were used,” he said.
With incorrect usage or through an overdose, the user can fail to breathe enough to keep the brain and other organs supplied with oxygen. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health says that pills taken from friends and family without asking is one of the top ways that opioids are acquired illegally. It’s particularly a risk for younger users. Experts emphasize a need for appropriate storage.
Camacho and Project Vita Health’s prescription dosing device took to the stage at Aggie Shark Tank in 2019, a business pitch competition based on the popular television series. Camacho impressed the judges, which included AIF fund manager Beto Pallares.
“We saw that there was potential to solve a very large problem, not just in healthcare, but in lives lost,” Pallares said. “Project Vita Health needed to get out and talk to their future potential customers, doctors and clinics, and see how they would best use the device with their patients, then the new prototype could evolve around those needs. Thanks to the support of AIF and a variety of investor and advisor networks, Project Vita Health has connected to local physicians and advocates who have been incredible with valuable feedback.”
Camacho added, “Through AIF, we were introduced to the representatives for New Mexico senators who helped us reach out to county departments and potential partners and discuss the ideas of pilot programs.”
The feedback they are incorporating in their prototype planning is that many patients use multiple prescriptions.
“While we’re focusing on opioids now, this is where we see our devices going in the next stages,” Camacho said. “It’s part of a vision to help with chronic pain management. There are many conditions that require prescriptions that are addictive.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the works, including plans to travel and meet more physicians throughout the state and in different areas of the country.
“We’re wanting to build relationships with clinics who are looking for solutions for their patients,” Camacho said. “Virtual meetings are great, but once it’s safe we’ll be looking to bring our new prototype to them and see how our product can help the best.”
AIF has commitments for a total investment of $800,000 from New Mexico’s Catalyst Fund, a $20 million “fund of funds” to support New Mexico companies, and $500,000 from the NMSU Foundation, as well as a $300,000 grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program and other private investors. AIF stands at $2 million in commitments and is looking for companies with entrepreneurs fully committed to growing and scaling their company and who are seeking between $25,000 and $150,000 in investment toward their total seed round fundraising target.