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Columbus' CompDrug Opioid Treatment Program beta tests robot to fill methadone doses

 Opio's Zing robot flashes a green light as it waits in Columbus' CompDrug Opioid Treatment Program backroom.
George Shillcock
Columbus' CompDrug Opioid Treatment Program is the first to beta test a robot from Opio called Zing that helps fill methadone doses as nurses interact with patients.

CompDrug in Columbus is getting a helping hand from an automated robot to help package and distribute drugs to treat opioid use disorder.

The opioid treatment program, or OTP, on 11th Avenue in north Columbus is helping to beta test Opio's Zing robot. Zing is a white refrigerator-sized machine that takes orders from nurses for specific doses of methadone and proceeds to do the manual labor of packaging, filling, labeling and capping off each methadone dose before nurses give it to patients to take home.

CompDrug CEO Dustin Mets said the nonprofit's nurses had to juggle the tasks of preparing the methadone and interacting with the patients. Now nurses direct the machine to prepare the dose as they assess the patient.

"What Zing does is say 'Nurse? You do what the nurse does. I'm going to put that methadone into the bottle. I'm going to make sure the cap is sealed accurately and appropriately. I'm going to put the right label on so that you nurse can do your nursing job," Mets explained.

This machine is the first-of-its kind to be used in a professional setting after being developed by Opio. Its designation as the alpha, or first, earned it the nickname "Alfie" and a nametag with its name on its side.

The machines will soon heat-seal the bottles with a foil wrap as well, but do not yet. Nurses still have to do this after the machine pops out the bottles onto a metal tray.

CompDrug sees more than 200 patients a day and Zing is able to create almost 400 doses an hour. It takes only seconds to prepare a dose and deliver it onto the tray to nurses.

Mets said CompDrug first discovered Opio and Zing at an American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependency conference. He said he knew the moment he saw the technology that it was "revolutionary."

"You can actually be with that patient, be present with that patient and interacting with them, talking with them," he said.

Mets said nurses can now ask more about how the patient is doing, if any additional services are needed, if they're healthy and making progress and about any concerns.

"That's the beauty of it and that's how we've implemented it," Mets said.

He explained that automation isn't new in the medical field, such as in hospitals or pharmacies, but no one had thought to use it with OTPs.

"So we've had hospital automation for 30 years and we've had automation in pharmacies. If you go to CVS, you've got it," Mets said. "We've never seen it in this setting. We've never seen it in OTPs."

Mets said the nurses are impressed by the machine and how helpful it is.

Mike Pokorny, the co-founder and vice president of engineering at Opio, said the beta test has gone well so far. He and other employees at Opio work on site with the machine and assess it daily.

"The clinic's been super cooperative and patient with us as we learned how to optimize it more to support the nurses," Pokorny said.

Zing has been on site since June and gave its first patient an automated dose on June 7.

Mets said since then human error has reduced and they've had few issues with the machine. At one point, they inserted the wrong caps into Zing, which causes a backup, but that was quickly fixed.

Mets said Zing also does not take away jobs or automate jobs that already existed. He said the behavioral care field in particular is experiencing a nursing shortage and this makes the job easier and could attract more workers.

Five more opioid treatment programs will get a Zing machine of their own soon in cities like Baltimore and San Diego.

Mets said these Zings likely will get their own nicknames like Bonnie, Clyde and Diego, which is in correspondence with the alphabet.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.