Nov. 20 (UPI) — Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are testing the use of ingestible sensors to track opioid ingestion patterns.

The sensor is planted in a gelatin capsule along with the medication. The digital pills can help doctors track how frequently patients are using their opioid prescription, and potentially alert healthcare officials to signs of abuse.

During initial tests, researchers found opioid-naive patients actually took fewer pills over a shorter period of time while managing fracture pain.

Researchers published the results of their tests in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

“As an investigational tool, the digital pill provides a direct measure of opioid ingestion and changes in medication-taking behavior,” lead study author Dr. Edward Boyer said in a news release. “This technology may also make it possible for physicians to monitor adherence, identify escalating opioid use patterns that may suggest the development of tolerance or addiction and intervene for a specific medical condition or patient population.”

Digital pills were recently approved by the FDA for use with aripiprazole, an antipsychotic being sold as Abilify MyCite, mainly to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression.

In addition to identifying doctors to a potential abuse patterns, the digital pills can also help researchers better understand normal pain treatment patterns, allowing doctors to prescribe appropriate amounts.

The ingestible sensor inside the digital pill is triggered by chloride ions which are released along with the drugs after the gelatin case dissolves. The energized sensor emits a signal that’s picked up by a patch worn by the patient, which connects to an iPod-sized cable reader.

During the experiment, the readers measured the ingestion patterns of 15 patients. The readers recorded a total of 112 ingestion events. The results showed the majority of oxycodone doses were taken within the first three days of leaving the hospital. The average patient took just six pills, despite being prescribed 21.

“It is fascinating to see this technology literally live and in action, especially in light of recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the risk of long-term opioid addiction in patients who have even short courses of oxycodone,” said co-author Dr. Peter R. Chai. “The findings of our pilot study indicate that most patients stopped taking their prescription opioid after only a brief period, even among patients with fractures that required surgical management.”

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