A few weeks ago I blogged about an upcoming “Natural Health Products” symposium that’s being held at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. The agenda raises a number of skeptical red flags, including topics like the efficacy of herbals for H1N1,and natural health products for menopausal symptoms (which I’ve called the power of placebo). The last presentation is the most questionable, with topics like “adrenal fatigue” as a consequence of chronic pain (adrenal fatigue is not an accepted medical condition). The biggest giveaway that this program may not be science-based is the mention of homeopathy as a “treatment option” for chronic pain.
If you’re new to the blog, homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system without any evidence of efficacy. Sure, there’s an detailed process to dilute the base substance (smacking the vial against a leather saddle), but in the end, every homeopathic product you see on the shelf is exactly the same: water. (See my other posts on homeopathy here.)
Well, the pseudoscience credentials of the symposium just went way, way up. Through the roof, actually. Why? Boiron is now a sponsor. Boiron is one of the largest homeopathic product manufacturers in the world. Their size is impressive: 2008 worldwide sales of €466 million. Not bad for products with no raw ingredients and no evidence to demonstrate their products are effective! Boiron makes the laughable Oscillococcinum that is touted to be an influenza treatment, but is simply a rotted duck’s liver and heart that’s been diluted down to pure water. How dilute? Here’s a good description from Wikipedia:
A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. As there are only about 1080 atoms in the entire observable universe, a dilution of one molecule in the observable universe would be about 40C. Oscillococcinum would thus require 10320 more universes to simply have one molecule in the final substance.
If a homeopathy manufacturer is providing sponsorship dollars for this symposium, the likelihood of the content being science-based is, well, probably homeopathic.
It pains me to point this out, as U of T is my pharmacy alma mater, and the school is filled with superb faculty, students, and researchers. So why is the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy willing to tarnish its good name by offering a continuing education program containing pseudoscience, sponsored by a company that makes homeopathy? Do they really need the money? Or have they run out of science-based topics to teach?
If this is the state of pharmacy continuing education, we should all be dismayed. Because when academic institutions that should know better are facilitating pseudoscience like homeopathy, and accepting sponsorship from homeopathic manufacturers, what chance does pharmacy really have to be a science-based profession? And what does it mean for patient care, when pharmacists are learning how to use elaborate placebo systems to treat chronic pain?