October 6, 2022

Delicious placebos for cranky kids

Is trickery part of medicine?

“Just a
spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way,” they
sang in Mary Poppins. What if the
medicine were sugar only, without any medicine at all? An enterprising Maryland
mother, Jennifer Buettner, asked herself that after a wrangle with a young hypochondriac
niece. The result is a new healthcare product, Obecalp – “placebo” spelled
backwards. The chewable, cherry-flavored dextrose tablets look and taste comfortingly
like medicine, but they aren’t. Bottles of 50 tablets will sell for US$5.95.

Doctors and bioethicists aren’t amused. They complain that placebos should be
used with care and that deception is not part of medicine. Furthermore,
children might grow up thinking that the only way to get over a bad patch is to
take pills. "The idea that we can use a placebo as a general treatment
method," says Howard Brody, a medical ethicist and family physician at the
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, "strikes me as inappropriate."

David Spiegel, of Stanford School of Medicine, believes that teaching children
to reach for relief in a pill could also make them easy targets for quacks and
pharmaceutical pitches later. "They used to sell candied cigarettes to
kids to get them used to the idea of playing with cigarettes," he said.

doctors’ reaction makes sense in broad daylight. But at 2am, with a screaming
child in your arms, mightn’t you think of reaching for a bottle of Obecalp?
That’s what Ms Buettner is counting on. "This is designed to have the
texture and taste of actual medicine so it will trick kids into thinking that
they’re taking something," Buettner said. "Then their brain takes
over, and they say, ‘Oh, I feel better.’" ~
International Herald Tribune,
May 27