A digital pill, one that allows doctors or family members to monitor compliance with medications, was approved by the FDA. It is revolutionary. It sounds like the perfect solution for seniors who have complicated medication routines and need help remembering when to take this or that pill. The dark side of the discovery is that the potential for overreach and abuse is enormous.
The pill, equipped with a sensor, is activated when it hits stomach fluid and sends that data to a patch worn on the rib cage of the user. The information is then transmitted via smartphone to everyone “approved,” by the user.
That all sounds on the up and up and if my grandparents were still alive it would have made life so much easier for me because getting them to take their medications at the right time was an obstacle we never fully conquered. But this digital breakthrough wasn’t approved for pills for blood pressure or Alzheimer’s, or statins. It was approved for Abilify, an antipsychotic medication used mostly for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and in some cases depression.
If that doesn’t sound alarming to you, maybe you don’t know the history of mentally ill people’s treatment in this country. A quick Google search will reveal that before the time of World War II many doctors believed in, and practiced, eugenics. Up until the 1970’s some states still had sterilization laws on the books. And of course, there were life-long stays in institutions. Few can claim ignorance about the lobotomy with the last “procedure” performed in 1967. And today, it is difficult to get treatment for a mental illness, and many people who suffer from one are on the streets or in prison.
With that being our history can you blame those of us with an illness like schizophrenia from being concerned? Will the pill be used to coerce parolees to take their medications? Will psychiatric facilities require the use of the digital pill before recommending release back into the community? Will Social Security require those on disability to report their medication compliance?
If schizophrenia weren’t the most demonized of the mental illnesses, I wouldn’t be as concerned. But the fact is every time there is a mass shooting in this country the media is quick to bring up the possibility of schizophrenia, and Hollywood doesn’t help that image at all as they never seem to tire of writing the creepy, lone killer as someone suffering from schizophrenia.
The reality is that mass shootings are more tied to a history of domestic violence than anything else and that people with schizophrenia are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators of a crime. Also, they are more likely to hurt themselves than others.
It would be convenient for the public, lawmakers, and caregivers if everyone with a mental illness could be chemically restrained and there was a way to monitor and track that. I think everyone would sleep better at night, but it is a false sense of safety and a violation of rights.
I would like everyone who suffers from the same brain disease as I do to have as close as possible to a “normal” life, but that should remain their choice even if most people believe those who are ill are incapable of making that decision.
Hopefully, the people prescribing this new technology set limits on its use.