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ONS Position Statement on Placebos in Cancer Pain Management Endorsed by 24 Organizations

ONS Position Statement on Placebos in Cancer Pain Management Endorsed by 24 Organizations

The Position Statement on the Use of Placebos for Pain Management in Patients with Cancer, developed recently by the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), has been endorsed by 24 nursing and other healthcare organizations.

When the statement was initially published in June 1996, ONS invited a variety of organizations to endorse it. The position statement was developed to support clinicians and enhance the care of patients with cancer. Between 50% to 80% of patients with cancer experience pain that require analgesics. The use of placebos in their treatment is quite common. The Society, however, believes that placebos should not be used in the assessment and management of cancer pain.

Position Statement Based on Several Issues

The Oncology Nursing Society bases its position statement on several issues. First, there are many misconceptions about the use of placebos. In particular, some believe that placebos can be used to accurately assess whether pain is real and to adequately treat pain without harmful side effects. Positive response to placebos is often viewed as evidence of malingering, exaggerating, or faking pain. These assumptions are incorrect.

Also, placebos are often used in a punitive sense for patients who have exhibited manipulative or demanding behaviors or in vulnerable populations, such as those with histories of psychiatric problems or substance abuse.

In addition, the use of placebos necessarily involves deception, which automatically raises serious ethical concerns. The use of placebos threatens the inherent ethical values and norms of health-care professionals as articulated in the ANA Code for Nurses.

Based on these assumptions, the ONS believes that placebos should not be used to assess or manage cancer pain, to determine whether the pain is "real," or to diagnose psychological symptoms, such as anxiety associated with pain. The Society asserts that nurses should not administer placebos in these circumstances even if there is a medical order to do so.

The position statement also includes recommendations to assist health-care providers with making decisions regarding the use of placebos.

For a complimentary copy of the position statement, contact ONS, 501 Holiday Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15220, or call (412) 921-7373 or FAX (412) 921-6565.

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