Digital pills monitor opioid use in patients with broken bones

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston have examined whether digital pills could monitor opioid use after surgery, according to a study published in Anesthesia & Analgesia.

This research team hoped to provide further evidence to the benefits of digital pills. Researchers tested digital pills in monitoring how patients take opioids.

The study included 16 individuals, with 15 completing the process. Participants ingested a median of six oxycodone digital pills in a week, with 82 percent of those pills ingested in the first three days. Eight-six percent of patients who underwent surgery continued to take pills for the full week. There was substantial variability in ingestion patterns between individuals.

"As an investigational tool, the digital pill provides a direct measure of opioid ingestion and changes in medication-taking behavior," said senior author Edward Boyer, MD, PhD, of the Division of Medical Toxicology within the BWH Department of Emergency Medicine. "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."

The digital pill was able to record 112 of the 134 ingestion events, an accuracy of 84 percent. Additionally, researchers found new opioid users self-administered the medications to manage pain for a short time and only took a fraction of pills in their perscriptions.

"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. These data are important as we continue to have more careful and directed conversations regarding the expectant management of pain, and the dangers associated with opioid use," said corresponding author Peter R. Chai, MD, MMS, of the BWH Division of Medical Toxicology. "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."