Young inventor helps fight teen drug abuse epidemic

The Locking Cap limits access to pills at home
By: Joanna Jullien, Special to the Press Tribune
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Joseph Simpson, 23, of Lincoln, doesn't want another family to endure the hardship he and his family experienced when his younger brother, Stephen, 21 years old today, became addicted to oxycodone at 16 years of age.

So he invented the world's smallest safe, a prescription bottle with a combination lock on the top called The Locking Cap (

 "Every day in our country kids abuse prescription pain relievers for the first time - and they get their supply from home," Simpson said.

Teen prescription drug addiction is a tragic story playing out in homes and communities across Placer County and the nation. It is a driving force behind the National Drug Take Back Day, endorsed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, scheduled for this Saturday. The Coalition for Placer Youth, dedicated to substance abuse prevention, has coordinated with schools and law enforcement to provide locations to dispense unused or unwanted prescription pills throughout Placer County.

According to a 2011 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users. This includes prescription-type psychotherapeutics (pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives) used non-medically.

In our own community, a Coalition for Placer Youth survey of Placer County youth indicated 6 percent of ninth graders and 10 percent of 11th graders have within the last 30 days used prescription medication without their doctor's order.

Simpson is convinced that if it wasn't so easy for his brother to access his mother's prescription pain pills, he might not have become addicted. So he implores parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to lock up or dispose of unused medications.

Alan Baker of Granite Bay is the Coalition for Placer Youth steering committee co-chair. He explains why access to drugs and alcohol in the home is the first line of defense.

"Kids are abusing what they perceive to be legitimate: alcohol and prescription pills. And they have plenty of supply from home," Baker said.

Stephen was a straight 'A' student-athlete. He became addicted after he was prescribed vicodin for a surgery and then he graduated to his mother's supply of pain medication, oxycodone, that was readily available in the home. His mother, Debbie Simpson, had suffered a traumatic accident and was in a wheelchair dealing with chronic pain.

After several grueling years of the addiction taking over his life, the lying and stealing to stay high, and generally disturbing the peace of their home, Stephen is in recovery and works in a rehab facility helping others get past their addiction. He is studying for his masters in counseling.

The Simpsons are in the process of starting a nonprofit, Eye In America, to promote safe practices with prescription pills.

"I am very proud of both my sons," Debbie said, "They are deeply committed to taking our hardship and turning it into an opportunity to save lives."

Joanna Jullien is a local freelance writer. She can be reached at


Placer County Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29



Drop-off locations

Oakmont High School - 1710 Cirby Way, Roseville

Antelope High School - 7801 Titan Drive, Antelope

Roseville High School - 1 Tiger Way, Roseville

Sierra College - Corner of Rocklin Road and El Don Drive, Parking lot D, Rocklin

Woodcreek High School - 2551 Woodcreek Oaks Blvd., Roseville

Whitney High School - 701 Wildcat Blvd., Rocklin

Auburn City Hall - 1225 Lincoln Way, Auburn

Del Oro High School - 3301 Taylor Road, Loomis

Granite Bay High School - 1 Grizzly Way, Granite Bay

Lincoln Police Department - 770 7th St., Lincoln