Gulf War Veteran Gets Placebos Instead Of Real Medicine

February 28, 2006

A Gulf War veteran undergoing medical treatment said he was given placebos -- or sugar pills -- instead of real medicine.

Like thousands of other soldiers, Army veteran Mike Woods said he developed bizarre symptoms after serving in the first Gulf War -- blackouts, chest pain and numbness in the extremities.

Woods looked to the Veterans Administration for help. He said his VA doctor prescribed him a drug called Obecalp.

"She told me there was this new drug out that would really help me with all of my physical conditions, and my pain. She really wanted me to try it," said Woods.

But when the pill provided no relief, Woods did some research and learned that Obecalp isn't a medicine at all, but a sugar pill. He was shocked to learn the word "obecalp" is placebo spelled backward.

The American Medical Association said placebos should only be used as part of a clinical trial and doctors must be extremely thorough in obtaining informed consent from patients that they may not be getting a real drug.

"Nobody ever said, 'You might be part of a study? You might get a placebo?'" asked reporter Alison Burns.

"No. Never. I never signed up for a study in my life, much less with the VA," said Woods.

Woods recently shared his ordeal with members of Congress investigating complaints about how the government is caring for patients with Gulf War Syndrome.

"The first step to fixing any problem is to recognize the problem is real," said Woods.

"It is absolutely ridiculous that they're giving Gulf War veterans a sugar pill to cure pain. It's like giving a cancer patient a sugar pill to cure cancer," said veterans' advocate Steve Robinson.

"To me, it's so wrong. It's immoral," said Dr. Damian Alagia, Medical Society of Washington, D.C.

Algia agrees that prescribing placebo to patients who haven't provided their consent is unethical. Although, he said research shows placebos are often effective in making a patient think he's getting better.

"Thirty-five percent of the time placebo will work," he said.

But it did not work for Woods --who said getting Obecalp is one more way the government is letting him down after he served his country.

"That's how they treat Gulf War illnesses -- give you a placebo and send you down the road and hope that your mind will cure itself," said Woods.

It might not just be a problem for veterans. Eyewitness News found a number of reports about doctors who admitted giving unwitting patients sugar pills to make patients think they're getting real treatment.

No one from the VA could explain why Woods got a placebo prescription. They said, as a rule, VA doctors are not supposed to use placebos as medical treatment.


Kali Yantra