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14 Jan

The Almighty Power of the Pill

You can’t watch more than ten minutes of television these days without seeing at least one commercial for some kind of prescription pill that promises relief from any variety of conditions. The ads are cheerful, whimsical, annoying, seductive, and sometimes nauseatingly hokey. But they work.

The ads, that is. And they should, given the price tag. Results from a study released this week at York University showed that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends approximately “twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development.” (The industry denies the estimate.) Big Pharma clearly wants us to believe in the power of their products.

With the almighty image of the pill flashing before us at every commercial break, it’s inevitable that consumers will think more about the possibilities of the pill next time they’re in the doctor’s office. Is it any wonder, then, to also read that nearly half of internists surveyed in Chicago say they’ve prescribed placebos to their patients?

A University of Chicago research team sent surveys about placebo use to 466 internists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois — Chicago. Half of the recipients responded, and 45 percent of the respondents reported giving a patient a placebo at least once during their years of practice. ‘Placebos have been used in medicine since ancient times and remain both clinically relevant and philosophically interesting. In addition to their recognized use as controls in clinical trials, this study suggests that placebos themselves are viewed as therapeutic tools in medical practice,’ co-author Rachel Sherman, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

via Live Science

The article presents what is, admittedly, an intriguing and hopeful point about the power of the mind to heal physical symptoms. Yet, it just doesn’t sit quite right. The report is as much a reminder of our culture’s faith in the “pill fix” as it is about mind over matter.

We’re not disputing the possibility of good practical reasons for the role of placebos in patient treatment, particularly in cases like chronic pain. But the fact that it comes more often than not with a prescription pad is, excuse us, a hard pill to swallow.

What are your thoughts?

Jaye Elle Flickr Photo (CC)

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  1. Naive question: What’s an internist? Is that a specific type of doctor? Does an internist have an M.D.?

    Cindy O. wrote on January 14th, 2008
  2. The fact that it comes more often than not with a prescription pad is a little sketchy at best. I remember an advertisement on TV for a “Holy Cloth”, and all you needed to do was send $20 to this company and in return you get a purple Holy Cloth.

    terry wrote on January 14th, 2008
  3. This reminds me of the (Red) campaign launched last year to raise money for AIDS research and treatment. I don’t have the exact figures, but apparently something like 80% of the 120 million raised was used for marketing the campaign.

    Bailey wrote on January 14th, 2008
  4. Pills are the easy answer. These commercial plays to our desires for a quick fix and instant gratification. No one, including doctors, want to talk about preventative measures which means eating healthy (diet changes) and exercise (You mean walk, are you crazy?). Beside there is no money in preventative care for pharmaceutical companies or for health care providers in general. Pills are easy and profitable.

    RB wrote on January 14th, 2008

    The money spent on marketing by big pharma is just outrageous.
    I really resent the pharma-babes that call on docs. That’s not sexist either: a pharma-babe can be male or female, but you can spot them a mile away. They are young and beautiful.

    However, for a MD to prescribe a placebo is wrong. That’s lying.

    Big pharma ARGH!!!

    GoingLikeSixty wrote on January 14th, 2008
  6. I strongly believe that there are cures out there for many diseases, and many to come in the future. You won’t see them though, because a cure doesn’t bring in the $$$ long term to the drug companies. They aren’t out for our best interest, they are out to fill their wallets and it’s sad.

    Jerry wrote on January 15th, 2008
  7. Wow and this was all posted in 2008…it’s even worse now…

    2011 here we come…There are entire series of commercials that are nothing but medication…back to back to back…whatever happened to the Pizza Hut and Fabric Softener commercials I wonder…

    Suvetar wrote on April 5th, 2011

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