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Aussie GPs Admit Prescribing Drugs That They Know Won’t Work

If your doctor prescribes medication to tackle your illness, there’s a chance it could be a placebo.

You’re most likely aware of the placebo effect – that’s where patients experience a positive response to medical treatment, even though the treatment they’ve been given has no scientific benefit. The classic example is having symptoms of an illness reduce or disappear despite only being prescribed a sugar pill.

Hooray for sugar! Nature’s miracle drug!

But what you may not be aware of is that you may have been prescribed a placebo yourself, even if you were given genuine medication.

A new study from the University of Sydney has found that not only did 39 per cent of 136 GPs surveyed admit to prescribing inactive placebos like sugar pills, but 77 per cent reported giving patients ‘active placebos’: real drugs, such as antibiotics or painkillers, which don’t actually address the patient’s underlying condition.

"Many were prescribing antibiotics or antidepressants, which are genuine drugs, as a placebo," the University’s School of Psychology Associate Professor Ben Colagiuri told the ABC.

40 per cent of the doctors said that they prescribed placebos at least once a month, most commonly for patients presenting with a viral infection (39 per cent), insomnia (21 per cent), or a pain-related condition (17 per cent).

42 per cent of active placebo prescriptions were for antibiotics, with vitamins and minerals, complementary treatments and painkillers being the next most popular.

Of course, with antibiotic resistance on the rise, overprescription may be giving patients that short-term placebo fix, but with serious long-term consequences for the health of our species. Though look on the positive side, antibiotics could be our future sugar pills.

Saline nasal spay and injections, water-based cream, and sugar and other placebo pills were the most used inactive placebo treatments.

Of course just because the drugs you’re being prescribed aren’t doing you any direct medical benefit doesn’t mean the doctors are fobbing you off. In fact they’re not just giving patients what they're often asking for (treatment), they’re trying to help you by tricking your body into thinking it’s meant to be feeling better.

And while it may seem obvious that a placebo only works if doctors deceive you, bizarrely, studies have shown that placebos can be just as effective if the patient knows they are taking a placebo – but only if they also know how the placebo effect works.

So get yourself across placebos, folks. The more you know about how your doctor is trying to fool you into getting better, the more likely their useless medicine is to work. Now THAT’s science.