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The next time someone defends the drug industry by explaining that they would never be able to do the research needed to come up with such fabulous wonder drugs if the sick and elderly didn't empty their wallets as they do today, tell them about this story reported by the radio show Marketplace and elsewhere:

JEFF TYLER: Participants thought they
were testing a new drug for pain relief. In fact, everybody got
placebos. Only one difference. Some were told the pills cost $2.50,
while others were told they only cost a dime. Dan Ariely, author of
"Predictably Irrational," was the lead researcher.

DAN ARIELY: What we found was that the expensive pill reduced pain to a much larger degree than the cheap pills.mobius-strip.jpg

I know this has weird and mobius-like implications for  consumer advocates  who are mad-as-hell about Big Pharma's price gouging.  If the psychological implications  of higher price have such a demonstrable  effect,  we should make  more expensive drugs cheaper and, thereby, more widely available.  But, then , this study implies, the formerly expensive and efficacious drugs will  have less of an effect.   Aargh, right?

But this conundrum ignores some key points. The first is that if the pharamceutical industry weren't allowed to so aggressively market drugs direct to consumers, we all wouldn't be so convinced that price matters and would get the same relief from two sugar pills no matter the price, and the same from a brand name drug and generic alike. 

The other, and this is the one that got to me, is the fact that sugar pills relieved pain.  So for all their alleged billions in research (the companies vastly overstate their expenditures by ignoring the huge amount of taxpayer-funded research and money funneled to the industry) into healing patients, we get relief just on the idea that we have a high-qualtiy medication working on our body.  

If only the sugar pills weren't so expensive.