The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first pill with a digital tracking system. The medicine includes a sensor that provides data about when the pill is swallowed. Some experts argue that this pill could ensure people take their medication in a timely manner. Others have expressed concerns about privacy.
The First Digital Mental Health Medication
The new drug is called Abilify MyCite. The drug is a digital version of the pill Abilify (aripiprazole). People mainly use Abilify to treat schizophrenia, but it can also treat depression, Tourette syndrome, and bipolar.
When the pill touches stomach fluid, the sensor sends an electrical signal to a wearable patch, which then transmits the date and time of medication use to a mobile application. People who have been prescribed this medication can allow their physicians to view this data and can also send it to up to four other people. They can revoke these permissions at any time.
Could Digital Medication Increase Treatment Compliance?
Medication compliance—the practice of taking drugs as prescribed—is a challenge for some people with mental health conditions. Stigma, concerns about side effects, and difficulty remembering a daily dose can undermine a person’s ability to take their medication. In some cases, the symptoms of a mental health diagnosis can cause them to avoid taking their medication. For instance, a person with schizophrenia may have delusions when they do not take their medication. These delusions may convince them that their medication is dangerous.
Abilify MyCite is one option for people who want help with their medication compliance. But the FDA cautions that there is no data proving this drug increases medication compliance overall. People generally have the right not to take medications if they don’t want to, and digital medications are unlikely to improve compliance in people who avoid drugs.
Does Digital Medicine Pose Privacy Concerns?
People with schizophrenia sometimes worry that people are watching or controlling them. A digital drug might increase those concerns, particularly if a person feels coerced into taking the medication.
Because the drug can notify up to five people when a person takes their medication, it also raises concerns about privacy. Digital data can be compromised. Some people who take digital drugs may feel pressured into sharing medication data with third parties.
Some people who use the drug may worry their information will be shared with people they have not authorized, such as law enforcement officers. There is no official indication that this will happen. However, courts already consider a person’s willingness to get mental health treatment when making probation and parole decisions. It is possible that law enforcement or parole boards could seek to use digital medication to monitor people in the future.
- FDA approves pill with sensor that digitally tracks if patients have ingested their medication. (2017, November 13). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm584933.htm
- First digital pill approved to worries about biomedical ‘Big Brother.’ (2017, November 13). New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/health/digital-pill-fda.html
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