Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Does short term placebo treatment of chronic schizophrenia produce long term harm?

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1986; 293 doi: (Published 20 September 1986) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1986;293:726
  1. D A Curson,
  2. S R Hirsch,
  3. S D Platt,
  4. R W Bamber,
  5. T R Barnes


    A randomised double blind placebo controlled trial is the most reliable method of assessing putative new developments in medical treatment. In schizophrenia, however, some clinicians believe that relapse contributes to long term deterioration and therefore that patients exposed to either placebo or an inactive new treatment may be put at a disadvantage in the long run if the trial leads to an additional relapse. A seven year follow up of patients included in a randomised placebo controlled trial of fluphenazine decanoate, in which 66% of the group given placebo relapsed compared with 8% of those who received the active drug, permitted examination of any long term adverse consequences in those patients who had received placebo. Seventy six (94%) of the 81 patients in the original trial were followed up. At the end of the follow up period there were no consistent or important differences in any measure of clinical or social outcome between the patients who had received placebo and those who had received the active drug. This negative finding has implications for the debate on the risk of placebo controlled trials of maintenance treatment in chronic schizophrenia.