Futuristic Digital Pill Has Been Approved By The FDA, But People Have Big Concerns

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first ever digital pill. The pill, to be used to treat schizophrenia, manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder, and depression in adults, will be fitted with a tracking device that can sync up to a smartphone app and report information back to your doctor.

The pill, called the Abilify MyCite, includes an ingestible sensor the size of a grain of sand. The sensor activates when it comes into contact with stomach acid. At this point it communicates with a wearable patch, informing it, and your physician, that you have indeed taken your prescribed medication. 

The patch also tracks other metrics such as your activity levels, and with your consent will share that information with up to four people of your choice. Patients that choose to share this data with their physicians, family members, or carers will be able to revoke this access at any point.

So far, so good. However, the pill is not without controversy. Experts have raised concerns about how such pills could be used in the future, and people online are worried that this – a pill that tracks your movements – will be given first to people with a condition strongly associated with paranoia.

Placing tracking devices within pills could save the healthcare system, and patients themselves, a lot of money. Millions of patients don’t take their prescribed medication, leading to other problems that require more serious treatment further down the line. 

The tracking device could also be used to help stop the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. If it was added to antibiotics, it could help ensure that patients finish their courses.

But there are privacy concerns. Psychiatrist Dr Peter Kramer told the New York Times that the pills are ethically sound for “fully-competent” patients and that digital drugs could potentially be used as a “coercive tool”. He also likened the smart sensor to a “tattletale”.

Though no scientific work has yet been conducted on patient attitudes to such a device, there are indications online that not everyone is on board.

The main concerns people have raised is that the first pills of this type will be given to people who may have paranoid thoughts due to their conditions. However, the director of Psychiatry Products at the FDA said that it would be beneficial to patients.

“Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients,” said Mitchell Mathis, announcing the pill’s approval.

“The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”

[H/T: New York Times]

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