In a terrifying new study, it turns out that the majority of Australian doctors have admitted to prescribing people placebos. Before you head to Google, a placebo is a medication given to people even though it doesn’t actually have any effect. So that’s fun.
All up, 77% of doctors admitted to prescribing ‘active placebos’, which are drugs that will fix some people’s problems, just not your particular one. Most of this was people prescribing antibiotics for people with viruses – to recap, antibiotics do sweet FA for viral infections.
And if that wasn’t a fun enough statistic, 39% of doctors admitted to giving people ‘inactive placebos’, which are just straight up sugar pills.
You’re most likely to cop a placebo if you rock up with a virus, but that might actually be partially our fault. One doctor interviewed as part of the study said that she had been verbally abused by patients when she told them that the best treatment for their viral infection was time, and so she wouldn’t give them medicine.
If the choice is being screamed at by a patient or giving someone antibiotics that they don’t need, I know for sure that I’m giving them the meds. Which is exactly how we wind up with antibiotic resistant superbugs by the way, so great job to the people yelling at doctors I guess.
Placebos themselves do actually have some benefit, even if it’s just a sugar pill. If a person genuinely believes that what they’re taking is going to take their pain away, then their body will release the chemicals needed to dull that pain.
Having genuine psychological benefits is great of course, but that’s all well and good if you have a headache. A placebo isn’t going to work quite as well on, say, a broken arm.
Whether they do any good or not, 77% is a massive number of people to be prescribing placebos. Keep an eye on what you’re prescribed, and for the love of everything, don’t scream at any doctors.