03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Pills, Placebos, and Prescription Drugs - Oh My!

It looks like pills are a popular subject this week. Yesterday, Newsweek dove in to the dangerous debate over placebo pills.

No one is saying "positive thinking" can cure cancer, or that patients should throw out their pills, let alone that illnesses that respond to the placebo effect are "all in your head"--imagined. But there is no denying the drumbeat of studies on the therapeutic power of placebos. Over the years they have been shown to relieve asthma, lower blood pressure, reduce angina and stop gastric reflux. An inert solution injected into the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease reduced muscle rigidity about as well as standard drugs. In a bizarre finding, sham surgery of the knee, in which patients got sedation and an incision but no actual procedure, relieved the pain of osteoarthritis better than actual arthroscopy--and produced an equal improvement in joint function, scientists reported in 2002. And last month an analysis of clinical trials of a range of antidepressants found that, except in the most severe cases, placebos lifted the black cloud as well as meds did.


And on the flip side of the coin, The LA Times published an article on the rising concern over the effectiveness of generic drugs.

In the contentious debate over insuring Americans' health, the value of generic prescription drugs is a rare point of consensus. Patients, physicians, employers, politicians -- all hail generics as powerful treatment for a swelling healthcare tab. On average, these copycat medicines cost less than a third of the brand-name drugs they mimic. In turn, the competition they provide drives down the cost of those first-to-market drugs.

The Generic Pharmaceutical Assn. touts them with a slightly catchier slogan: "Same Medicine. Same Results." But sometimes, patients and their doctors beg to differ.

"Everybody thinks generics are swell: To suggest otherwise is like saying you don't love your mother," said Dr. Peter R. Kowey, chief of cardiovascular diseases at the Philadelphia area's Main Line Health System, who reviewed the issue of generic substitution of certain heart drugs for the American Heart Assn. But between some pioneer drugs and their generic imitators, Kowey said, "we are concerned that the margin of difference is large enough" to risk patients' health.


What are your thoughts on placebo medication? Do you think it's a dangerous line to walk, particularly with the recent study on the ineffectiveness on anti-depressants? Are you brand-name only? Or do you ever slum it and go generic?

We know you HuffPost readers must have an opinion, so let's dive into the fray!