Medical lies  Medical study ploys  Placebos


Rappoport, Jon

MAY 17, 2011. Today, I want to alert you to a staggering medical practice in clinical trials of psychiatric drugs.

It's called "placebo washout."

Basically, it works this way. Before a drug company starts to test the effectiveness of a medicine they want to market, they bring together all the volunteers-and they give them a sugar pill.

They tell them, "We're going to give you a sugar pill."

After a ten-day period on these placebos, the researchers weed out the people who improved, got better, feel better. They dump them from the ensuing clinical trial. Bye bye.

Of course, they claim there are good reasons for this washout strategy. But the fact is, eliminating these volunteers from the study makes it more likely that the drug will look good.

I'll explain why this is so in a second. But first, in case you don't believe placebo washout is a real and widespread practice, I'll give you two references out of many: RP Greenberg et al, PMID 857037, PubMed-indexed for Medline; and JG Rabkin et al, "Baseline Characteristics of 10-day placebo washout responders in antidepressant trials," PMID.

It's real. They give everybody a sugar pill, and then they dismiss all those who got better on it.

Then they get down to the clinical trial. They divide the remaining volunteers into two groups. Those that will receive the drug, and those who will be given another placebo.

Of course, nobody is told which group they're going to be in. That's the whole point. Blinding the study enables researchers to compare the number of people who get better on the drug with those who get better on the placebo.

You see, it's common knowledge that some people will get better on anything. That's why they test the two groups. They have to prove the drug is performing better than the sugar pill.

General estimates vary on what percentage of people get better on placebos. 35-45%, some researchers say, is a rule of thumb. Sometimes the % is higher.

But wait! The researchers ALREADY kicked out the people who got better on the sugar pill during the 10-day preliminary washout!

That means they're trying to decrease the beneficial effect of the sugar pill in the clinical trial. Get it? Which means, by comparison, they'll claim the drug performed very well.

The FDA, which approves all drugs for public use, knows this. Researchers know this. Shrinks know this. Drug companies know this. Even some medical reporters know this.

And yet, the practice goes on.

Placebo washout is on the order of saying, "Yes, we tested the new plane and it performs magnificently. Of course, we didn't put it into the air. We rolled it across the runway."

If there are any psychiatrists out there who are reading this, any researchers who want to defend placebo washout, I suggest we set up a radio debate with Dr. Peter Breggin, psychiatrist and author. I'm sure I can arrange it. But I warn you. Buckle up. It'll be a bumpy ride. We will get into the air on this one.

Another public service of No More Fake News.

Placebo washout. Rigging the game. Stacking the deck. The bigger the lie and the more obvious it is, the harder it is to believe that's what's you're looking at. Until you LOOK.

In my 39 years as a reporter, I've come across maybe 100 scandals that could cause a significant sector of the medical cartel to burst into flames and blow away in the wind. This is one of those.

Of course, media, government, and drug corporations make sure such a thing never happens. And when I say media, I'm including publications you'd think would love to watch a really good fire. Turns out they have no stomach for it.