Consumers Use Fitness Bands Track Symptoms Of Illegal Drug Use

Posted on July 20, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the last few years, providers have begun to do more and more with patient-generated health data. Much of this data has come from fitness bands such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch, whose data adds some additional dimensions to the big data warehouses hospitals maintain.

In recent times consumers have apparently found a new and possibly lethal use for this feedback. According to a CNBC story, a number of people in their 20s are using these devices to track the effect of illegal drugs on their system. That’s especially the case among techies already quite familiar with running their lives with devices, the article suggested.

Don’t believe it? For proof, the author cites a number of social media sites where users discuss the benefits of tracking how illicit drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and speed affect their bodies. For example, a Reddit user recently posted a description of using a health tracking device to keep tabs on their pulse after taking cocaine. In a skewed version of medical data sharing, the post even included heart rate graphs.

Another Redditor cut to the chase: “Drugs are basically the only reason I wear a Fitbit,” the poster wrote. “I want an early warning system for when my heart’s going to explode.”

Of course, very few physicians (if any) would condone this practice, which certainly doesn’t offer a bulletproof way to protect users from the effects of the drugs they’ve taken.  Not only that, consumer-grade trackers are nowhere near as accurate as a standard medical device.

Some would say that this is a nasty example of the law of unintended consequences. With very little evidence to support their assumptions, some users are basing their lives, in effect, on the accuracy of the relatively-ineffective technology.

On the other hand, at least some of those who track their body’s response to drugs may have a sense of the devices’ limitations.

One drug user who tracks his vital signs with a fitness band told a reporter he feels that the device is useful despite its limitations. The man, identified only as Owen, said that while the band may not be completely accurate, it seems to display heart rates consistently at low and high exertion levels.

“If somebody says, ‘Let’s do a line,’ I’ll look at my watch,” Owen told the publication. “If I see I’m at 150 or 160, I’ll say, ‘I’m good.’”