Pharmacies Targeted in Mass Homeopathy Overdose

Hundreds of protesters will gather outside Boots pharmacies on January 30 to swallow entire bottles of  homeopathic remedies and embarrass a profession that sells them in the absence of any evidence of efficacy.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the 10:23 protest which was gathering momentum in the United Kingdom. Recall that in late 2009, a senior executive from Alliance Boots, a UK pharmacy chain, admitted that there is no clinical evidence to support homeopathic products, yet Boots sells these products strictly because of consumer demand.

Homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system of “remedies” with no active ingredients.  Based on the absurd notion of “like cures like”, proponents of homeopathy believe that any substance can be an effective remedy if it’s diluted enough: raccoon fur, the sunlight reflecting off Saturn, even pieces of the Berlin Wall are all part of the homeopathic pharmacopeia.  And when I say dilute, I mean dilute. The 30C “potency” is common – it’s a ratio of 10-60.  You would have to give two billion doses per second, to six billion people, for 4 billion years, to deliver a single molecule of the original material. That’s dilute.

Homeopathy could be written off as a harmless nostrum if it caused no harm. But a review of What’s the Harm suggests otherwise. Most importantly, homeopathy delays patients from seeking science-based treatments. But when they’re stocked on pharmacy shelves, it’s unfair and unethical to expect patients to be able to able to distinguish real drugs from placebos. Selling homeopathy in pharmacies legitimizes an industry which deserves none, and skeptics plan to “overdose” on these products to shame Boots into putting patient care ahead of profits.

The 10:23 protest has attracted widespread media attention including prominent coverage in the The Guardian and the BBC.  Here is a sample of what’s being written about the protest, and the pharmacy profession:

10:23, Homeopathy, and the Shame of the Pharmacy Profession:

The pharmacy profession has been granted statutory privileges to dispense medicines to the public. They do so under a code of practice that insists they do act with ‘honesty and integrity’, that they do not ‘exploit the vulnerability or lack of knowledge of others’, and that they “provide accurate and impartial information to ensure that [they] you do not mislead others or make claims that cannot be justified”

When pharmacists on the high street accept cash for homeopathic pseudo-medicines that promise to relieve their customers of hay fever symptoms, help insomnia, or sooth a baby’s teething pain, they appear to be ignoring their professional standards in the pursuit of profits.

The professional code of ethics of a pharmacists would suggest that they are required to provide the customer with all the “necessary and relevant information”. It is surely necessary to inform someone that they are buying a worthless product that cannot work as described and there is no reason to suppose it does. Pharmacists must fall into two camps here: those that believe that homeopathic preparations do work as described, in which case they are simply incompetent, and those that shut up for fear of their jobs and for an easy life.

Ouch.

Homeopathy by the Mind-Boggling Numbers (Times Online):

To put homeopathy in a medicinal context, if you wanted to consume a normal 500mg paracetamol dose you would need ten million billion homeopathic pills. Where each pill is the same mass as the Milky Way galaxy. There is actually not enough matter in the entire known Universe to make the homeopathic equivalent of a single paracetamol pill.

So why are Boots putting their trusted name on pills that are labelled as a medicinal product, but contain nothing other than sugar? They’ve come out and said that there is no evidence to suggest that homeopathic remedies are efficacious but they will sell them if people believe they work.

Homeopathy is actually based on 18th century wishful thinking that water will somehow remember substances that it had previous contact with (but will forget the countless effluent that it has passed through). That a 10 billion year old water molecule will remember everything it has touched flies in the face of all known science and is an insult to any thinking person. Sincere people with medical needs buy homeopathic remedies only because they masquerade as being something more than mere sugar pills.

They are an insult to the herbal remedies on the shelf next to them at Boots; at least snake-oil has the decency to contain some snake.

Without question, the ongoing sale of homeopathy in pharmacies is causing a public relations disaster for UK pharmacists.  Bloggers are taking great delight in documenting how pharmacists that sell these products refuse to admit the products have no active ingredients, or happily sell the products without understanding what homeopathy is. The protest has become viral: It has spread to Australia, too (Here’s the video from the 10:23 overdose in Sydney, which takes place outside a pharmacy.)

It’s time for pharmacists everywhere to act in the best interest of patients, and pull all homeopathic remedies off pharmacy shelves.

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13 thoughts on “Pharmacies Targeted in Mass Homeopathy Overdose

  1. Nancy, what is the homeopathic cure for AIDS, I wonder? How about Avian flu? Cystic Fibrosis? What of Diabetes, herpes, measles, or polio?

    How does homeopathic birth-control work? How does a homeopath treat scoliosis? How would a homeopath treat the injuries of a car-crash victim?

    Since the world’s water supply is loaded with dilutions of seemingly every chemical ever produced in nature or the lab, what does a homeopath do when they’re thirsty? Surely every single drink of water must be a concoction of homeopathic “remedies”.

    As to the list of diseases that are currently incurable, some are preventable with vaccines, and others are being researched. What you perjoratively call “allopathic”, I call “actual”.

  2. Used to live in the Uk for 20 yrs, now in France so I see lots of homeopathy junk. However the medical system here in France is so good and accessible that people here go straight to the real docs and only take the goofy stuff as an aside. I dont know anyone here at all who would actually rely on homeopathy to be a medical solution for anything. So, in this situation it doesnt bother me so much. However, I am so hopeful a bit of the current UK attention/awareness might come through in USA. It will be too late for my poor deluded brother who died of cancer last year to read it. Yes, unfortunately it is harmful to use homeopathy in such cases— and all the other weird junk foisted off on the credulous—I am still so angry I could spit nails.

  3. Apologies in advance because this is sort of off-topic.

    If you’re not already aware, you might be interested to know, that closer to home in Toronto there is a homeopath on a major Greater Toronto TV station (CP24) promoting homeopathy and other alternative modalities, from the quackery-of-all-trades — naturopathy — to bio-dentistry. This is a weekly “health” call-in show named Wylde on Health. A discussion on Reddit has been started here: http://www.reddit.com/r/skeptic/comments/az4zv/homeopath_on_popular_canadian_tv_news_network/

    Also, check out this hilarious Tweet by the host of the show where he calls out Randi as stupid and posts a PDF attempting to debunk the Lancet meta-analysis study on the efficacy of homeopathy: http://twitter.com/WyldeOnHealth/status/8667004795

    Feel the stupid.

  4. I am talking not from hearsay, but from personal experience. Can any one tell me how can a placebo heal the wound of a clinically confirmed case of anal fissure and the pain in three days (Paeonia); how can another placebo dissolve a tangerine-size hematoma on the head in one day (Arnica);is it possible for a placebo to cure Acute Otitis Media in a 3 yr old (Belladona);how a placebo will clear the exudate, fever and infection of the tonsils in 2 days and so on…….for pennies compared to Conventional medicine…..Ignorance can be more strong than knowledge!!!!

  5. Wow MM,

    That must have been some party! An anal fissure AND a tangerine size hematoma – rock on dude!

    Perhaps you can get bumper stickers made re: your creed, “Ignorance can be more strong than knowledge!!!!!”

    That’s some priceless stuff!

  6. MM, personal experience AKA anecdotal stories prove nothing other than the fact that you type on a computer. If you don’t believe me just ask the fairy sitting on my shoulder.

    There could be a variety of reasons why an ailment appears to “heal.” The temporary mood improvements of the patient due to the personal nature of a treatment. The psychological investment of the patient in the success of the therapy. Misdirection. An incorrect diagnosis of the patients ailment to begin with. The cyclical nature of many ailments that vacillate from worse to better to worse to better, etc. Other medicines the patient may have been taking. Or the illness just goes away by itself.

  7. Pingback: World Homeopathy Awareness Week is Coming « Science-Based Pharmacy

  8. Although homeopathic medicine has no measurable effect. It may be useful as an adjuvant to conventional medicine, even if only for placebo effects observed.
    Also the counselling involved in homeopathy is often more extensive than a GP’s 15 minute, and this may be beneficial if only for psychological value etc.

    • Since real medicine has actual and placebo effects, I’m unaware of any evidence to demonstrate that homeopathy would offer additional benefit. Plus, to obtain the placebo effect, deception must be used when describing both content and evidence of efficacy.

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