• Editorial

Placebo pills for children

Citation

Kamerow, D. (2008). Placebo pills for children. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 336, 1339. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.39603.698889.59

Abstract

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 …