At least once a month, Joseph Simpson gets the call. Simpson invented a combination-lock cap that fits onto a prescription medicine vial and deters drug theft.
The cap is ultrasonically welded and won't break unless forced, but his caller will say: "Hey, my seal on the bottom broke off. Did cold weather do this? Or, is it heat?"
Simpson knows this is a time for tact, so he asks: "Is there anyone in your family who possibly could have wanted to take one of your prescriptions?"
Then, Simpson said, he can almost see their faces over the phone. "It's like dead quiet for a second," he said. "Then they say, 'You know what? There is somebody.' "
Simpson conceived the Locking Cap when he was 18 years old. He worked with a friend on the design, found investors and began manufacturing by age 22. Now 24, he's running a company and trying to find time to finish up his business marketing degree at Sacramento State.
Roughly 10,000 Locking Caps have been sold, but the company isn't in the black yet. The biggest barrier, Simpson said, is that parents don't believe their "little angel" would steal a pill. Yet statistics show one in 12 high school seniors is using Vicodin without a prescription and one in 20 is taking Oxycontin.
One of the abusers, Simpson said, was his little brother, Steven. By the time Steven Simpson got to college, he was in and out of rehabilitation programs until one finally worked for him, his brother said. A childhood friend wasn't as fortunate. After two days in jail without Oxycontin, he got out and committed suicide.
Sure, the Locking Cap can be broken, Simpson said, but most kids won't do it.
"A lot of times, they're the smartest kids in their class, and that's one of the reasons why they don't get caught and the addiction is able to progress so far," he said. " If they break this, it's not a secret. What kids will do is go into the medicine cabinet and take five or 10 pills out at a time."
Simpson's Locking Cap has been praised for its small size. Earlier this month, the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence recognized it as one of this year's top five technologies that will reduce prescription drug abuse. Save Mart, Ralphs and Lucky sell the Locking Cap for $9.99 with an adapter for a drug vial. At www.thelockingcap.com, Simpson sells an all-in-one cap and bottle for $11.99.
Salud to Dunne, Kushman
The California State Fair has been helping consumers identify the state's finest wines for 150 years with its annual Commercial Wine Competition.
Winning winemakers trumpet the results on their websites and in their marketing materials to gain currency in an industry that sold $20 billion in vino last year in the United States.
For the past 26 years, chief judge G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski has run the competition, but the fair's leaders decided to get a fresh perspective next year.
They recruited Mike Dunne and Rick Kushman as co-chief judges. Theirs will be familiar names to longtime Bee readers. Dunne was The Bee's wine writer for more than 20 years. He now contributes freelance reviews for the Food & Wine section. Kushman, The Bee's television critic for 15 years, also has extensive knowledge of wine and is slated to release his second book on the subject in January. It recounts the story of Barefoot Cellars founders Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey.
Dunne has been a chief judge for the Pacific Rim Wine Competition in San Bernardino. The State Fair competition won't be until June, Dunne told me, but he and Kushman are editing the contest handbook and working on a list of judges.
"I judge at about a dozen commercial wine competitions a year, small ones and large ones, and I've often felt they could be improved," Dunne said. " I look upon this as an opportunity to join a competition that is functioning well, has meaning and impact with consumers, but with tweaking here and there, we could enhance its conclusions even more."