Gov 2.0 | Pillbox Hopes to Create Cure for Disparate Drug Data

BY Hari Sreenivasan and Chris Amico  September 8, 2010 at 6:48 PM EDT

If you’ve ever found an unconscious loved one with nothing more but a nearby pill and a glass of water as clues, you would certainly want a service that could help you quickly and easily identify what drug might have been ingested.

PillboxThe Pillbox project has already begun such a database, and it is an example of what is so Web 2.0 about some recent government initiatives in data transparency and increasing access to records.

The project looks to make drugs easier to identify by leveraging data from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Library of Medicine. More than 10,000 records are searchable by shape, size, color, etchings and ingredients. David Hale from the National Library of Medicine is leading the charge. Watch our conversation here.

As an example of the difficulty in identifying pills, the drug you probably know as Tylenol is known more formally as acetaminophen, but it might also be called one of 100 other names given by different brands. It may be the main ingredient or mixed with another drug. Here’s a list.

Each of those forms of acetaminophen may interact with ingredients in other drugs, and there is nothing regulating what a drug is called or what it looks like.

Pillbox was built to make sense of this. Hale has managed and evangelized the project since 2008.

“The competitive advantage of the government in this space is that we are the content experts,” Hale said. “Citizens, communities and developers are the expert in its context.”

In other words, the government knows almost everything about a particular pill, but has no idea why it’s in your medicine cabinet.

One new feature of the database is the ability to search by inactive ingredients. This is important to only a small slice of the software’s likely users, but it’s critical to that slice.

“If you’re lactose intolerant, you need to know what medications have lactose,” Hale said. “We did that because our users asked us.”

Follow Hari Sreenivasan and Chris Amico on Twitter. Crispin Lopez contributed to this report.