The United States Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) just approved a pill with sensors for the first time. Anti-psychotic drug Abilify MyCite which has a “digital ingestion tracking system” to monitor if the drug was actually ingested has been approved for sale by the administration. In a press release to online media, the FDA wrote: “The product is approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults.”
Pill send signal on contact with stomach acid
The pill senses whether the user has ingested it by sending information from an internal sensor to a wearable patch on the patient, this information is then forwarded to either a smartphone app or directly to a monitoring medical professional. The pill is designed to trigger an electrical signal when key ingredients come into contact with stomach acid. The pill contains copper, magnesium, and silicon, which sound alarming, but are actually relatively common “ingredients found in foods.”
Patients who are prescribed the medication are required to sign a consent form. This gives their consent that allows their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, receive the data on their pill taking. Patients have access to a smartphone app that lets them add or block recipients to the data at any time.
Tracking medicine may save lives
There are many reasons why tracking medication is a good idea. Medications related to the management of severe mental health illness such as schizophrenia can be critical to the patient's health but may be forgotten or ignored by a patient. The tracking system can assist not only those that take long-term medications to help themselves keep track of their own medications but can provide peace of mind to their carers, doctors, and families that they are maintaining their medication regime.
Not taking medication when needed or in the manner that is required is called noncompliance and can cost the healthcare system millions of dollars because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization. Dr. William Shrank, chief medical officer of the health plan division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains, saying, “When patients don’t adhere to lifestyle or medications that are prescribed for them, there are really substantive consequences that are bad for the patient and very costly.”
Critics question drug choice
The sensor medication also has its critics. Some say that once the data on which medications you are taking is stored somewhere it could be used by insurance companies to raise premiums. Others question if the medication and its monitoring could become part of parole or family court decisions. Paul Appelbaum, Columbia University director of law, ethics, and psychiatry wonders if a drug used to treat schizophrenia was the right place for the FDA to start. He asks: “A system that will monitor their behavior and send signals out of their body and notify their doctor? You would think that, whether in psychiatry or general medicine, drugs for almost any other condition would be a better place to start than a drug for schizophrenia.” Critics aside, the meditation is definitely a breakthrough in a type of biotechnology that we haven’t seen before.