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:
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.
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.