Tackling Recreational Drug Dangers With Technology

Photo of a woman taking a white pill

The figures around recreational drug misuse in the United Kingdom do not make for nice reading. It is estimated that in the past 12 months 1 in 11 adults aged from 16 to 59 have taken a drug.

In many cases people may be fine having taken drugs, however we all know about those who aren’t so lucky. In 2019 drug use and also drug dependencies were responsible for 16.4% of all deaths among people in their 20s and 30s.

In Scotland alone, 1,264 people died from drug misuse in 2019 which represented a year-on-year increase of 6%.

No figures are available yet at the time of writing for 2020 as quite understandably the pandemic has shifted focus and resources, but ultimately these figures still make for grim reading.

One of the main contributing factors is that people don’t know exactly what they’re taking with the contents and purity levels being unknown. The average amphetamine sulphate powder purity over the past decade was between 5% and 12% meaning in some cases 85% of the pill could be absolutely anything.

Tech To The Rescue?

It’s clear from these few statistics that despite the illegality of recreational drug use people are going to continue to participate. And whilst the medical world ends up taking the brunt with regards to treating the after effects on those who have taken these substances, it is not their role to stop them. That is more of a societal and educational issue.

However, despite not being able to stop people taking them, there has been a move to bring together medical knowledge and technology to help aid decision making, so people can see what is in the pills they are taking.

The Drugs.com Medication Guide app has been around for a while now and is used to identify pills against their database by entering the number, shape or colour on the pill. Their database is updated daily to help provide users the most up-to-date information. This app also provides a list of interactions/side effects that may occur from taking certain drugs.

This app has over 5,300 ratings on the App store with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 so it’s good to see that an important tool is being well received.

Whilst the Drugs.com Medication Guide app focuses on mainly over-the-counter medications a new player has just recently entered the scene focusing on the recreational drugs side of things.

The Pill-iD app, developed by UK based tech company Rehab and French advertising agency Herezie, is a system that allows users to scan MDMA based drugs in order to identify potential risks. It is currently a prototype but a launch by the end of 2021 is planned.

“Our assumption is that drug use will continue to happen and we wanted to show how technology could help people make the right decisions for them,” said Rehab CEO Rob Bennett (source: Design Week).

Users simply take a photo or upload an existing one and the app will identify the pill and provide information about the likely dosage, possible/predicted side effects and the overall risk level. Everything is kept confidential to encourage people to download and use the app without worrying about being traced for being in possession or for taking these drugs.

Great Idea

I love ideas like these, it’s why we all love working in the MedTech space. It’s all about using tech for good and making people’s lives easier and most importantly safer.

We can’t eradicate drugs or stop people using them but if technology can help make the education they need more accessible by putting it on their phones then it can only be a good thing. As Rehab CEO Rob Bennett said, “If we can save just one person’s life with this app, then we’ve done our job.”

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