Brad Byrd In-Depth: ERAM

The opioid crisis is seen across the U.S. including here in the Tri-State. There's now a new tool created in Evansville which could be used in catching the danger signs for some prescription medications. It's called electronic remote accountability monitoring or ERAM.

Brad Byrd talks with Jacob Hillgoth of ERAM and Danny Koester, who is the president of ABK Remote Drug Testing, to discuss how ERAM works and can help curb the opioid epidemic.

Click here to learn more about ERAM.

Transcript of interview:

Brad Byrd: "And welcome to In-Depth tonight. Chances are, on any given day, we will broadcast a story about some type of drug abuse. Moreover, it often shows individuals hopelessly addicted, the pain it causes families and friends. We know we are in the middle of an opioid crisis right here at home and with that said, tonight we look at a new tool that could be used in catching danger signs for some prescription medications. I’m joined tonight by Jacob Hillgoth of ERAM and Danny Koester. He is the president of ABK Remote Drug Testing. And ERAM stands for electronic remote accountability monitoring and this cell phone right here. This is part of the all-important tool that we’re talking about tonight. And I’ll give this back to you, Danny.  Now explain how this works, Jake. We’re talking about basically, checking people’s drug medication habits right over the cell phone. Tell me how that works."

Jacob Hillgoth: "Absolutely. So we have developed the technology that allows us to leverage a smartphone to establish a remote connection with any participant, walk them through a series of steps, looking for different signs of insobriety, and also to watch them take their pre-packaged medications."

Brad Byrd: "And Danny, you’re the man who basically came up with this concept and you have been involved in drug testing for the courts, for law enforcement agencies, and clinics for several years. Basically walk me through this. We’ve got these medicine packs up here.Feel free to use those and this about how this works. And you have a patent on this." 

Danny Koester: "Correct, we do have a patent on this. Basically, what it is, you download an app on your cell phone and if you don’t have a smartphone, we’ll supply you with a smartphone. It’s a web-based product, so  anywhere you can take the testing. Not only just us, any particular business, agency or anyone can do the testing. Basically what we do on the medication, is we pull the medication up on the uni-dose packages, make sure all the medications are in the proper packages. These are just two different types of packages here, that we would have here. And then we see that all the medication’s in there. And then on the backside here, we would see the day and time that you would have to take a medication. So, we’re watching you live do this remotely, anywhere in the United States. So as we’re watching you, you pull this package off, we watch you take one pill at a time,  and you drink it, then we turn around and take the phone on the back side of the camera,  and we pull it up to your mouth, and we open your mouth both ways to make sure that you drank it down." 

Brad Byrd: "Okay. And this is, you say Jake, that this is a tough system to basically hide something."

Jacob Hillgoth: "Absolutely. So ..."

Brad Byrd: "Like if you’re going to try to sell these before the test begins, it’s going to show up because the packets will be empty."

Jacob Hillgoth: "Sure.  So, the neat thing is, with the uni-dose packaging, not only is it set times, the contents are listed correctly, but we’re able to confirm each day, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, evening and night that they have the correct package, that the contents have not been tampered with, and as they consume the medication, we’re able to check and make  sure they’re not cheeking said medication."

Brad Byrd: "Alright and this is basically, right now, being utilized for people who may have mental health issues that are no longer incarcerated and you are basically monitoring them for law enforcement here in the tri-state and also elsewhere is my understanding."  

Danny Hillgoth: "Correct." 

Brad Byrd: "But basically, it's mental health. And this involves any number of prescription drugs that would be involved." 

Danny Koester: "That is one division of ERAM. That is correct." 

Brad Byrd: "And you were telling me especially with mental health issues when someone is off their medications, that can be a big huge dangerous signal." 

Jacob Hillgoth: "Well, we notice across the state of Indiana and even nationwide is that a lot of the monitoring services are reactive. So similar with drug testing for instance, the randomize drug testing program if you were to consume a drug substance and go in for your analysis, it's at that time where they would no for instance that you had taken an illegal substance. The purpose of ERAM is to be proactive in this testing, to look for any indications of insobriety, or in this instance the medication to make sure it is taken properly, to notify the case manager if there have been any lapse, any mishap with that monitoring process." 

Brad Byrd: "And this takes right to the overcrowding problem not only for the Vanderburgh County Jail, but for jails across the state of Indiana. Danny, the problem is that there is not enough space, but the hope is this particular tool could help law enforcement and with help from the legislature with a very critical bill passed two years ago. Tell me about that." 

Danny Koester: "Well, the channel 6 bill, we met with the DOC commissioner yesterday, and he brought up the channel 6 bill when it came in to play to a lot of the level 6's down into the county jails. The channel 6 bill is designed for programs to release them out of jail but again give them accountability. And the accountability part of it, one tool of the accountability would be ERAM. After meeting with the commissioner yesterday, he just mentioned that ERAM was one of the best products he's seen in a long time because it is getting daily accountability. Even in Vanderburgh County, we probably have the best probation department probably in the state of Indiana because they test more than anyone in the state does once a week. ERAM tests you twice a day as a minimum." 

Brad Byrd: "And also, what have you learned, Jake, about the drug crisis. You've been with ERAM for five years. The stories you could tell, Danny, we could spend the rest of the evening with. But I'll first ask you, Jake, what are you learning about people?" 

Jacob Hillgoth: "Sure. Well, I mean like myself, I've learned that people are creature of habit. And whether they're bad habits or fallen into the loop of the criminal justice system is that a lot of participants don't have the support system like some of us might have benefited to have. And so, ERAM installs accountability and allows them to lean on something, to know that they have that support as they are going through issues of insobriety or dealing with any mental health issues as well." 

Brad Byrd: "And also, Danny, this could lead ... the goal is to possibly putting a dent on the opioid epidemic." 

Danny Koester: "We're hoping so, and we think so. The simple reason why when you talk to the judges who does the drug courts, they know that when they're going through these courts that they're going to relapse. People are 'Alright, it's going to happen.' The key to it is catching it as soon as possible to get them help. And there is no other product out here other than ERAM on a daily basis to recognize that there is an issue going on either with the medications or with taking drugs." 

Brad Byrd: "Alright, well gentlemen, thank you very much for joining me. You can find out more about ERAM by visiting your website, Correct? And thanks so much for joining us." 

For the latest breaking news and stories from across the Tri-State, follow Eyewitness News on Facebook and Twitter.

(This story was originally published November 7, 2017)

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