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New Digital Pill Set to Monitor People Afraid of Being Monitored

The good, the bad and the ugly things we learned about our bodies today

In the pantheon of bad ideas, there’s getting involved in a land war in Asia; lighting any part of your body on fire for LOLs; and now, creating a “digital” pill that reports back to doctors when a patient has taken their medication.

Allow me to explain.

Yesterday it was announced that the FDA had approved the world’s first digital pill, called Abilify MyCite, which is embedded with a special sensor that indicates when it’s been ingested. At face value, this is a good thing; a study in Annals of Internal Medicine reported back in 2012 that upwards of 20 percent of all prescriptions are never filled, and among those that are, 50 percent are not taken correctly. So a pill that employs safeguards — albeit digital ones — to prevent misuse and abuse has got to be a step in the right direction. Right?

The irony in this case is that Abilify MyCite is an antipsychotic, prescribed to schizophrenics and people with bipolar disorder. Precisely the kinds of people, in other words, who might not be jazzed to know that an invisible someone is monitoring them.

Paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of schizophrenia, the hallmarks of which include hallucinations and delusions of persecution. Antipsychotics like regular old Abilify (among others) are a timeworn treatment for what is a terrible and debilitating disease. The problem lies when you give people who believe that they’re being tracked and spied upon a pill that does, well, kind of exactly that. And doctors are keenly aware of the optics. Here’s how one doctor described it to the New York Times:

“Many of those patients don’t take meds because they don’t like side effects, or don’t think they have an illness, or because they become paranoid about the doctor or the doctor’s intentions. 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.”

Yikes.

A few other things we learned about our bodies today: