Does Target sell the most irresponsible homeopathic remedy ever?

I can’t think of anything more appalling than selling water to someone and telling them it will treat their asthma. This pic via Ryan Melyon on Twitter, was taken at a Target pharmacy in Chicago:

Fake asthma remedy

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: Homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system where the “remedies” are inert. It’s reckless endangerment of life to sell a product for treating the acute symptoms of asthma when there is no medication in the bottle, even if there is a caution on the front of the box. And it should be obvious, but placebo has no meaningful effects in the treatment of asthma.  The sale of homeopathy in pharmacies is not only misleading to consumers, it is fundamentally unethical behavior from a health professional. Target and its pharmacists have a ethical and moral responsibility to pull this product off the shelf immediately.

January 16: Here’s an update on Target’s fake asthma “remedy”. And a petition has been started asking Target to stop selling this product.

Weekend Reading

An example of #badpharmacy

An example of #badpharmacy

The photo above is from a pharmacy in Toronto. Acid base nonsense? Check? Cancer quackery? Check. Endorsed by a pharmacist? Check. Send me your own pictures of ludicrous pseudoscience and quackery for sale in a pharmacy, and I may feature it in a future post.

Here’s today’s updates to engage, inspire and possibly infuriate you… Continue reading

The Ethical Implications of Rexall’s Dubious Homeopathic Offerings

Main ingredient in homeopathy

From ethicist Dr. Chris MacDonald, a column on Rexall’s recent advertisements promoting homeopathy:

The problem, of course, is there’s no reliable evidence that homeopathy works, nor any plausible reason to think that it even could work. In commercial contexts, that’s pretty bad. And it’s worse still when the company selling the stuff is a company people rely on for competent health advice, and when that company leverages the credibility of a licensed health profession to promote bogus wares.

And importantly:

The commercial world is full of scams, and all too often people with something to sell have unwarranted faith in their products. Greed and ignorance are nothing new, but that doesn’t mean they are excusable. Companies that claim not just to provide a product, but to educate and take care of consumers, ought to do better. They should do their best to sell only those products that they, and their customers, are justified in believing in.

More here.

I’ve written about the ethics of selling homeopathy before.  As XKCD said about pharmacies selling homeopathy,

 Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying–it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.

How to boost homeopathy sales? Don’t tell the customer it’s homeopathy

Homeopathy Cartoon

The other day a parent asked me if she could give her 2-year-old Tylenol liquid along with some cough syrup she had purchased at the pharmacy. I was a bit surprised, as cough and cold products for young children have been pulled from pharmacy shelves for a few years given their lack of efficacy and spotty safety record.  “What product did you give?” I asked. “Stodal” she replied. I paused, then replied. “Well the good news is that you can give Tylenol and Stodal together. But you should know that Stodal is a homeopathic product – it contains no medicinal ingredients, so what you’re effectively giving is a sugar syrup.” I explained how homeopathy is permitted for sale in Canada, and sold in pharmacies, despite the fact it is an elaborate placebo system of sugar pills and liquids. The mother was furious – at the pharmacy for selling it, at the store staff for recommending it, and especially at the regulator, Health Canada. “How can they possibly permit this to be sold?” she asked me. I had no explanation – but encouraged her to return the product to the pharmacy and demand a refund. Continue reading

How a pharmacy turned the cofounder of Wikipedia against homeopathy

Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia, was given some bad advice by a pharmacy:

Last week I was in a pharmacy (chemist) in London just around the corner from my apartment there.  I had a sore throat and cough and wanted to buy some soothing cough drops.  I did, buying a brand that contains benzocaine.  These work.

The clerk tried to sell me something else, Oscillococcinum.  He said that this is a French homeopathic remedy, which told me all that I need to know: homeopathy is a proven fraud.  But he went on to give some “scientific” details – if I took Oscillococcinum it would disrupt the DNA of the virus before it could make me ill.

Well, that kind of lie is what makes me ill.

I hope it wasn’t a pharmacist, because if they gave that kind of advice, they should lose their licence to practice. Wales continues:

Oscillococcinum is a complete hoax product.  The method of production is to take an extract of duck liver and heart and dilute it in a 1:100 ratio with water, and to do that dilution over and over, 200 times.  Wikipedia, in the article I linked up above, eloquently explains what this means: “Mathematically, in order to have a reasonable chance to obtain one molecule of the original extract, the patient would have to consume an amount of the remedy roughly 10^321 times the number of atoms in the observable universe.”

When people are told that Oscillococcinum can disrupt the DNA of the flu, they may very well choose not to have a flu vaccine.

What I want to know is this: why is this legal?  Or, if it is not legal, then what can be done about it?  I’m quite sure that the clerk himself had no direct financial interest in defrauding me, and likely didn’t even know he was doing it.

He’s absolutely right.  There is no convincing evidence that Oscilliococcinum is anything more than a placebo. The final product is simple lactose and sucrose. Wales finishes with an appeal and is inviting comments:

Who should I talk to about this in order to encourage the creation of a campaign to stop this?  This is not my primary area of interest and so I am not the right person to lead it myself.  But I would like to help.

Do pharmacies care that they’re selling sugar pills and calling them medicine?  Judging by this sign I spotted at a local pharmacy, I don’t think so.



More Reading

Placebos as Medicine: The Ethics of Homeopathy

Dilutions of Grandeur: It’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week

The consequences of legitimizing nonsense

Do pharmacy regulators “get” homeopathy?