Chronic pain medications can be a big moneymaker for pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies want to get people reliant on a prescription that they will take regularly, possibly for the rest of their lives. But pharmaceutical companies are getting frustrated in their attempts to get new medications approved in the US because of an increase in the strength of the placebo effect, something that is happening here, but nowhere else.

Sugar Pills Getting Stronger

According to the results of a recent analysis published by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, the placebo effect has increased significantly from 1990 to 2013. The researchers looked at 84 clinical trials that were conducted around the world over that period and found that the pain relief people got from placebos increased significantly over that period.

Placebos are fake drugs that are given to people to distinguish between imagining a pill is effective and an actual effect of a pill. By 2013, patients taking placebos actually experienced an average 30% reduction in pain levels.

The results of this study replicate similar effects seen in trials of antidepressants and antipsychotics, but this study was able to identify that the primary source of the increasing placebo effect is trials conducted in the US, not those held elsewhere. Comparing clinical trials held in the US against those held elsewhere, it was clear that the US saw a much greater increase in the placebo effect than other countries.

Why the US Might Experience Stronger Placebo Effects

Researchers noted that there were several differences that separated the US from other countries in terms of its clinical trials. First, in the US, clinical trials have grown larger (from under 50 patients in 1990 to about 700 in 2013) and longer (from four weeks to 12 weeks). However, this was partly in response to rising placebo effect, and it would tend to work against the effectiveness of placebos by increasing statistical power to distinguish between the effects.

Researchers also noted that in the US there has been a significant rise in for-profit firms conducting research trials.

But perhaps the clearest link might be due to the drug companies themselves. The US is one of only two countries in the developed world (New Zealand being the other) that allows drug manufacturers to advertise to patients directly. This would potentially have the impact of increasing confidence in drug treatments, which would manifest as an increased placebo effect.

Whether the placebo effect is increasing or not, any drug that can’t prove itself better than placebo doesn’t deserve to be on the market. For an effective, drug-free treatment for TMJ and other chronic pain conditions, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.