back to article US authorities swallow security-free script for pill that knows when you're off your meds

What could possibly go wrong when drug companies embed into a pill, so that after you swallow it connects to a smartphone app and then sends data over the internet? The question is urgent as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week approved a thing-in-a-pill, in the form of an antipsychotic called …

  1. BillG Silver badge
    WTF?

    Insurance

    I'm familiar with the development of this system. There is also another, less intrusive system that is a smart pill bottle cap that logs when the pill bottle cap is removed and replaced.

    No one would be surprised to find out that the pill bottle cover is globally funded by insurance companies and I suspect the system described in this article is, too. If you don't take your medicine, guess what? That's right, they raise your health insurance rates! Brought to you by the same people that want to monitor how fast you drive so they can raise your car insurance.

    Isn't this too damned intrusive?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Biocompatibility (was: Re: Insurance)

      No one would be surprised to find out that the pill bottle cover is globally funded by insurance companies and I suspect the system described in this article is, too. If you don't take your medicine, guess what? That's right, they raise your health insurance rates!

      That's a problem which has mostly been solved in most of the civilized world by universal heath-care systems and the associated public controls on private medical insurance. Once you remove that consideration, smart bottle caps are not a terribly stupid idea - people are imperfect, and sometimes don't take their meds or take them twice - simply because they are forgetful, not because they are deliberately non-compliant. If you are dealing with (most) vitamin pills, that's not such a tragedy - but for many drugs the toxic doze is not that much higher than the therapeutic one, and missing your meds even once may also kill or seriously injure you - or somebody else. Of course, there are many low-tech solutions already for generally-compliant patients - such as wheel dispensers.

      For the bluetooth-enabled pills, I would be much more concerned by the biocompatibility of the electronic component of the pill, especially for prolonged, daily use. None of the materials needed for the non-tivial electronics on the scale of a BT stack - like semiconductors, metals, or conducting polymers - are terribly healthy when ingested. I can see a simple RFID tag being mostly OK - but not a device with any local processing power. Even if it is not digested and absorbed in the bloodstream, the tiny mechanical debris could do some serious damage over time.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: Biocompatibility (was: Insurance)

        From my understanding, the pill itself doesn't contain the BT stack, it contains a certain substance ("minerals" is the term used in most reporting) that the sensor patch can detect, and the patch handles the processing and BlueToothing.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Biocompatibility (was: Insurance)

        "the tiny mechanical debris could do some serious damage over time."

        My first (uneducated!) guess would be an indigestible sealed unit that is passed during the normal cycle of events. I'd rather not think of the consequences of the power source dissolving in the gut or bowels, never mind the rest of it and Im sure that was one of the first consideration back in 2012 when the electronics package was first approved.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Re: Insurance

      Isn't this too damned intrusive?

      Scenario that springs to mind is for those whose meds counteract seriously violent psychosis. Court order: take your verifiable meds. Open to abuse, sure, but what if the alternative is prison for public protection?

      1. Smooth Newt
        WTF?

        Re: Insurance

        Scenario that springs to mind is for those whose meds counteract seriously violent psychosis. Court order: take your verifiable meds. Open to abuse, sure, but what if the alternative is prison for public protection?

        It's always possible to dream up some scenario which covers 0.0001% of cases and use it to justify taking everyone's rights away. That's how we ended up living in a surveillance state - 0.0001% of people are terrorists, so let's carefully watch everyone. Next thing is the Government will extend this sort of monitoring to everyone because of supposed "health benefits".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Insurance

      "No one would be surprised to find out that the pill bottle cover is globally funded by insurance companies"

      Not filling the prescription in the first place would seem to take the wind out of their sales.

      And, yes, I meant to spell it that way

  2. Captain DaFt

    "What could possibly go wrong when drug companies embed into a pill,"

    All of them? That's a mighty big pill!

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: That's a mighty big pill!

      Maybe a suppository.

  3. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Can be useful

    Had a migraine episode so bad I couldn't remember if or when I'd last taken painkillers. Kept bouncing from subconscious to somewhat awake and saying 'Man, this hurts. Should take a Tylenol'... reach over to nightstand... take one Clue was running out of pills.

    Turns out that your liver becomes really unhappy when you do this.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Can be useful

      'Man, this hurts. Should take a Tylenol'.

      Speaking as someone who knows[1], paracetamol/tylenol is pretty bad at dealing with migraine (unless mixed with other things[2]) and, in a lot of cases, can make them or the post-migraine pain worse.

      [1] I've had them for years. Was up to 2-3 a week at one point. Now taking something that vastly reduces them, albeit at the slight cost to functional processing..

      [2] In my case, codiene or sumatriptan. Although the sumatriptan only really works if you take it at the first symptom of the migraine - in my case that's usually bits of my vision disappearing. Fortunately (for various reasons) I qualify for free prescriptions.

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Can be useful

        @CrazyOldCatMan, thanks for the tip, mate. Have a pint. I will look into this.

  4. LondonGull

    so what if

    You are deliberately not taking your pills and drop this smart pill in a glass of vinegar sat next to you. I'm guessing that would be enough to fool it

    1. AS1

      Re: so what if

      And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why there's an activity monitor and probably a temperature monitor too. You'll need a smart glass with thermal management and an agitator. It may be easier to snoop the comms and playback a fake profile to the sensor.

      If anyone has watched 'Equilibrium' (1984 + 451 with enforced medication for the entire population) then they might think this smart pill is a large step towards a dystopian future. A what point in their well-being does the state ensure the medicated conform?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: so what if

        "with enforced medication for the entire population" what like Fluoride, mandatory vaccines, GMO's, yeah that would be terrible if that were to ever happen.

        What a hellish scenario, good job we're intelligent beings with honest leaders!

      2. handleoclast

        Re: so what if

        You'll need a smart glass with thermal management and an agitator.

        Or a dog. Or a large cat.

        Actually, many of them, because the medicine will probably kill them.

        Note that I'm not advocating this, because I love cats (dogs are OK, but cats are better). I'm merely speculating on the approaches people might take to deal with this. People whose mental state is such that harm to animals is either unimportant or perhaps even enjoyable.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: so what if

          @ handleoclast

          Sorry for the dog. I was actually going to write "get a Jeeves" but it's probably true that fairly few can afford one. And my smiley icon was not proper either.

          I have had dogs since I was born, three cats today, (or rather my wife's). My problem is, however, that I am allergic against dogs and cats. But they just love me (in any country). One "expert" told me they like me because as I try to stay in the background, sort of, I also refrain from behaving like a twat in front of them with idiotic sounds and gestures. That then informs them that I am a normal and non-aggressive nice person worth making friends with.

          But about that pill, I find it a bit silly to compare it with a pacemaker, unless of course it was possible to blow you and the pill up over the internet.

          Somebody mentioned metals, unhealthy for us, but I would assume/hope that stuff will travel to the bitter end.

          There is in fact a video camera so small you can swallow it and then your doctor can on a monitor record the journey to the end, to be or not to be, used again.

          But there is that worrying aspect of the insurance companies, then again, it's more or less an American problem. Eventually I hope more and more Americans will understand that they are screwed by the Insurance Companies and Big Pharma more than anybody else in the world.

          As hard to change, I suppose, as the, de facto, two party system. I also believe some Brits would agree with me that their two party system was one big reason to the idiotic referendum.

          Metals and insurance makes me remember that eating gold was at one time in China thought to be the way towards a golden old age, not a longtime success, however. And at some time they "invented" health care insurance, you paid your doctor as long as you felt fine and dandy, if not, you stopped paying and he would turn up again doing his best for you.

    2. James 51 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: so what if

      Read on several different sites that it is specifically stomach acid so it would need to be quite strong HCl, weak stuff like CH3COOH shouldn't be enough.

      1. handleoclast

        Re: so what if

        it would need to be quite strong HCl, weak stuff like CH3COOH shouldn't be enough

        Depends how concentrated the HCl needs to be, because it's quite easy to make what is effectively contaminated, dilute HCl.

        Take vinegar and add salt. The result is a mixture of sodium, acetate, hydrogen and chloride ions in water.

        Fun trick. Take a tarnished coin. Dip your thumb in some of the mixture from above and rub the coin with your thumb. Note: do not do this with a valuable rare coin unless you want to make it a less-valuable rare coin.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: so what if

      The point doesn't seem to be deliberate avoidance, which would be practically impossible to avoid (give your pill to you dog, your cat, whatever).

    4. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: so what if

      Get a dog.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The lifecycle could get interesting..

    I guess the next stage would be sensors in the sewage system..

    1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: The lifecycle could get interesting..

      Internet-connected loos have been the darlings of the IoT crowd for a long, long time...

  6. Mike 16 Silver badge

    It's a budget thing

    A lot cheaper to have this sort of pharmaceutical ankle-monitor than to actually build enough "mental hospitals" to accommodate all the dissidents, er psychotics. Probably the one bit of subsidized "health care" left standing.

  7. Public Citizen

    The fatal flaw in the logic connected to this is that certain people on psych meds regularly and deliberately go off meds.

    How on earth are they going to get these same people to wear a bluetooth patch? They will just rip off the patch the same way they toss their meds now.

    In addition, this assumes a bluetooth connectible phone in the loop, which is not necessarily a given.

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