Observations Yankee Doodling

Placebo pills for children

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39603.698889.59 (Published 12 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1339
  1. Douglas Kamerow, chief scientist, RTI International, and associate editor, BMJ
  1. dkamerow{at}rti.org

    A deeply bad idea

    And so another trend begins in America. This time it is placebo pills for kids.

    On 1 June a company called Efficacy Brands (I’m not making this up) put cherry flavoured sugar tablets on sale on the web. The company was started by a mother with three young children, who has appeared on the morning television shows in the US to publicise her inspiration. For just under $6.00 you can order a bottle of these pills to “treat” children when real medicine isn’t appropriate and a hug and a kiss aren’t enough. The pill is called Obecalp—placebo spelt backwards. How clever is that?

    I first became aware of the power of placebos 30 years ago when I was an intern in a large US urban hospital. Our pharmacy stocked two “special” painkilling drugs, available by a doctor’s prescription only. One came in a brilliant red capsule and the other was deep purple. The interns were instructed that these pills were for people who abused pain medications and …

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