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Survey: Half of U.S. doctors use placebo treatments

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posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 07:04 PM

LONDON — About half of U.S. doctors in a new
survey say they regularly give patients placebo treatments —
usually drugs or vitamins that won’t really help their condition.

And many of these doctors aren’t honest with their
patients about what they are doing, the survey found.
That contradicts advice from the American Medical
Association, which recommends doctors use treatments
with the full knowledge of their patients.

“It’s a disturbing finding,” said Franklin Miller, director of
the research ethics program at the U.S. National Institutes
Health and one of the study authors. “There is an element of deception here which is contrary to the principle of informed

The study was being published online in Friday’s issue of BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.

Read the rest of the article here:


Are these people paying full price for these placebo's thinking they are getting the real medicine? I don't agree with this at all. It's one thing to use placebos in a study, but not for dr.'s to hand them out like candy. I would be awful upset if I found out my kid was given a sugar pill instead of the real stuff.

[edit on 23-10-2008 by Clark W. Griswold]

[edit on 23-10-2008 by Clark W. Griswold]

[edit on 23-10-2008 by Clark W. Griswold]

posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 07:42 PM
Sorry but I have to disagree with you on this. It's a well known fact that americans have the highest amount of population who are addicted to prescribed medication.
The doctors are probably doing you a favour if they believe your condition is cureable by using placebo's. There is too big a dependency on the pharma industry in the u.s & am glad the doctors are doing it.
I'm sure the doctors aren't doing it to people with serious conditions that could threaten the well being of the person.

The problem with telling the patient that they are being prescribed a placebo is that for a placebo to work the patient has to believe they are getting bona fida medicine for the ailment they have. Admitting this just defeats the whole purpose.

posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 08:01 PM
I can see your point, but prescription drugs are expensive enough as it is. If they are charging me for the drug, I should get the drug. Unless they are charging for sugar pills, in which case I'm sure the person would know he's been given a placebo.

posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 08:25 PM
Yeah, I read the article, no mention of the possible implication that the billing for such treatment may have reflected the medications prescribed, and not the actual medications administered.

It seems that their definition of placebo is somewhat expanded over the common definition:

From the OP's link

Most doctors used actual medicines as a placebo treatment: 41% used painkillers, 38% used vitamins, 13% used antibiotics, 13% used sedatives, 3% used saline injections, and 2% used sugar pills.

So 54 percent of those surveyed substituted possibly addictive substances in place of what was actually prescribed.

That's reassuring.

However, experts don’t know if the placebo effect would be undermined if patients were explicitly told they were getting a dummy pill.

I now wish to concur with mclarenmp4 and add my humble, less-than-expert opinion and predict that, no, it probably will not work if the patient is aware of the placebo.

See, this is a fine example of why I don't always see eye-to-eye with the so-called 'experts'.

[edit on 23-10-2008 by FewWorldOrder]

posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 09:52 PM
Maybe all non pain killing meds ARE placebos! Now there's a thought!

2 line post.
Actually, 3.

posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 09:56 PM
There's also a thread going on this in Other Current Events, with a FoxNews source; I'm going to crosslink that one over to here because this source is more detailed overall and I think the story will have a longer life in the Medical Issues forum.

One thing that I didn't see in this source that was in the Fox source was the example of giving vitamins for chronic fatigue syndrome.

I'm really going to have to look for the published study itself, because the longer I think about it the more I can't figure out what kind of conclusions you can possibly draw from a study that lumps painkillers (narcotic or non? doesn't say), sedatives, vitamins, antibiotics, and sugar pills together and treats prescribing them as one practice.

What about off-label uses for other prescription drugs? Did those count as "placebo"?

Something interesting to keep an eye on is who sponsored the study. I forget the name of the group as I'm typing, but some National something-or-other of Alternative Medicine was the co-sponsor with the Medical Ethics section of the NIH.

Okay, that didn't make a lot of sense, but I will do the cross-linking, and I do think there's something hinky and interesting about these studies. And it's not just that placebos work, which we already knew.

EDIT: D'oh! I must be tired. I didn't even think to put a link in to the other thread.

[edit on 10/23/08 by americandingbat]

posted on Oct, 23 2008 @ 10:02 PM
reply to post by Atlantican

Spoke briefly with our local GP several years ago

To my surprise, he said he was leaving the industry, sooner rather than later .. 'early retirement' as he put it

Something he said tends to support your post:

' Did you know that prescription medicines actually work for only 3 out of
10 ? And we don't know why ... '

posted on Oct, 24 2008 @ 09:32 PM
I spoke with a relative of mine today who has worked in a hospital pharmacy for over 20 yrs. She said in all that time only one dr. requested that the pharmacy weaken a dose. She said they couldn't do it, that it was illegal, and the pharmacy would be in big trouble if they had.

So, where are all these placebo's coming from? It must be Dr.'s giving them to patients, not prescribing them.

posted on Oct, 24 2008 @ 09:48 PM
People are going to get the wrong idea from this article and infer that they are talking about sugar pills (they should be so lucky). They are talking about giving a person an active pharmaceutical which has not been shown effective in treating their condition.

posted on Oct, 24 2008 @ 10:50 PM
reply to post by Clark W. Griswold

usually drugs or vitamins that won’t really help their condition.

First of all, how in the hell are doctors prescribing their patients drugs that "won't really help their condition". How is this not illegal? Even vitamins, considering that some vitamins/nutrients either interact with certain drugs dangerously or they cause retention of the same vitamin/nutrient that would be given, causing an overdose.

And many of these doctors aren’t honest with their

patients about what they are doing, the survey found.

That contradicts advice from the American Medical

Association, which recommends doctors use treatments

with the full knowledge of their patients.

Is this not a violation of the Hippocratic Oath? I'm very skeptical of this survey.

Price? Price is irrelevant when dealing with human lives. Shouldn't a patient be more concerned about their own health, especially considering the fact that doctors kill more people than guns either by misdiagnosis or bad prescriptions.


posted on Oct, 24 2008 @ 11:07 PM
The survey report

Some responses

I've only just started looking through the study, but it's definitely interesting and controversial enough that I recommend reading it to people who are concerned about these things. The first link above is the article in question in the online BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal). The second link is to some responses, mostly from doctors, which raise a number of the important issues in the study.

Also note that this was a mailed survey, so the responses were self-selecting. What that means is that this is really a survey of doctors who want to talk about prescribing placebos to their patients. (Unless, and I haven't checked this possibility out yet, there was some incentive for responding, which would make the sample even less representative).

In short, I think this raises important questions about the ethics of prescription in the current medical environment, where media and advertising encourage patients to believe there is a pill for all ills, while other laws severely limit what can be descibed as effective for a specific illness. But it has been seriously overplayed in the main stream and alternative media alike (what a surprise -not!) as finding that doctors routinely lie to and deceive patients.

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