Homeopathy: Water for Profit
There’s this pharmacy right near my doctor’s office. Really convenient if you need to get a prescription right after your appointment, but I can’t bring myself to go there any more.
You see, every time I go there, it’s to get medication we’ve been prescribed. And each time, they try to sell me on other things. I get it. It’s the retail version of “Would you like fries with that?”, but with this particular pharmacy, it’s not fries they are selling. More often than not, it’s a “complementary” treatment. So far, it’s ranged from naturopathic preparations to homeopathy and supplements. But it’s the homeopathic treatments that really get to me.
Last time I was in there, I actually lost count of the number of homeopathic preparations I saw; homeopathic lollipops for colds, homeopathic drops for upset stomachs, homeopathic preparations for babies- everything from teething symptoms to “calming” drops. And I got pretty mad, because homeopathy has been repeatedly proven to work no better than a placebo.
Yet pharmacies like this one stock these homeopathic products for a huge range of symptoms and nowhere could I see any actual information about them. They are not behind a counter, requiring a chat with the pharmacist before purchase. There is no information on hand to advise that these treatments don’t actually work. It’s all well and good to expect people to read up on these things themselves; however, I also think that when a qualified pharmacist is the one suggesting and selling you these products, you place your trust in them, as a trained health professional, and assume that they wouldn’t be recommending them to you if they didn’t actually work.
We’ve probably all heard the conspiracy theories that surround pharmaceutical companies; they are “evil” corporations making a fortune of things like vaccines, not caring how many people they injure or kill along the way, among other things. I’m not the first to wonder, though, if a lot of people really have these things backwards. Companies selling alternative remedies, particularly remedies like homeopathics which have been repeatedly shown not to work- why aren’t more people questioning this industry? Homeopathics are supposed to work by diluting minute amounts of substances in water, often to the point where these “active” ingredients are no longer detectable. How much money is being made by selling people small bottles of what is essentially water? A quick look online shows pharmacies selling such remedies for $10-$20. I can’t help but wonder what the profit margin is.
A Billion Dollar Industry.
Alternative therapies are apparently looking at $4 billion dollars in revenue in Australia- and growing. In the US, the alternative medicine revenue is expected to hit around $14.3 billion dollars this year. That’s a lot of money for an industry that is largely self-regulated and involves many treatments that have little to no evidence to support their use. In the US, it’s said to be a $34 billion dollar industry all up, with only around a third of these so-called therapies having been tested. The pharmaceutical industry has definitely got a much higher revenue world-wide and while it’s not perfect, it has something that the alternative often therapies don’t; the obligation to prove that their products are safe and effective. They answer to regulatory bodies such as the American FDA, for example, who are there to ensure that drugs work correctly and that their benefits outweigh any risks that might be associated with them.
The Local Chemist.
I got curious about the ethics of selling products, particularly homeopathic products, in your average pharmacy. I’ve been to several Sydney pharmacies just recently; all sold such products. So I got in touch with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to ask their stance. I was sent this position statement from the Australian Pharmacy Liaison Forum, which clearly states they do not support the sale of such products due to the poor evidence to support their use. They don’t support it- but they haven’t banned it or at the very least made it an obligation to provide consumers with accurate information about these products. To be a pharmacist, a person must study for 4 years, full time. Looking on the websites of universities offering this degree, the subjects studied focus on chemistry, biology and how drugs work (a very basic summary- have a look at the subjects here.) I couldn’t find one that also offered units on complementary therapies. While some pharmacists choose to study these in addition to their degrees, I don’t know that they all do. I do, however, think that all those years of study on chemistry, biology and all the rest would give a good understanding on how drugs actually work. It’s not a big stretch to think it would also give a person a good understanding of why homeopathy does not work. There are some pharmacists urging their peers to stop selling these remedies, such as Ian Carr, from Taree. Cutting to the very heart of the matter, he had this to say:
“Every time a consumer is able to pluck their chosen homeopathic drops from your shelf, you have given credence to quackery.”
If they know it doesn’t work, why sell it? People are happy to be critical of “Big Pharma”, but perhaps more critical eyes need to be turned to alternative therapy companies for peddling pseudoscience for profit, aided by pharmacists (Little Pharma, if you like?) who legitimise this rubbish by selling it.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.