Wednesday, March 2, 2011

CVS Now Selling Its Own Brand of Homeopathic Quackery

In the beginning CVS just sold homeopathic remedies produced by other companies, including the ever popular yet totally ineffective flu remedy, Oscillococcinum.

Oscillococcinum offers a good introduction into homeopathy (which should not be confused with herbal medicine.) In a nutshell, homeopathy is based on two so-called laws: The law of similars and the law of infinitesimals. The law of similars suggests that "like cures like" -- that is, something that causes a disease can be used to cure that disease. So pepper, for instance, is used to cure a cough because pepper can cause a cough. Because you don't want to actually ingest pepper, homeopathic remedies are diluted in the extreme, to a point where not a single molecule of the original substance remains. But that's okay, because according to the law of infinitesimals, the water in which the pepper or whatever is diluted retains a memory of that original substance, and it is this memory of water that has a biological effect on people.

Are you with me so far? To recap, homeopathic remedies rely on the idea that a substance that comes into contact with water gives water a special kind of memory of that substance. This idea might ring some warning bells in the part of your brain where high school chemistry once resided and for good reason: It's nonsense.

The so-called alternative medicine of homeopathy relies on alternative chemistry. Only there is no "alternative chemistry" -- there is only real chemistry.

Back to Oscillococcinum. The "active" ingredient of Oscillococcinum is "Anas Barbariae Hepatis Et Cordis Extractum (200CK HPUS)." What is that? It's duck liver and heart. But don't freak out about that. The "200CK" part of the labeling indicates that the duck liver has been diluted to 100^200 parts water. What you're taking has no duck liver or heart at all. In fact, so little actual duck parts are used that a single duck can supply year's worth of Oscillococcinum. (That's good news for ducks.)

Not a single study has shown that Oscillococcinum has any effectiveness. Not one. Oscillococcinum is a sugar pill, nothing more.

Twelve tablets of Oscillococcinum costs $19.95 at CVS. And you thought that bottled water was expensive. That's $1.66 per tablet.

That's where CVS steps in. CVS sells its own brand of Oscillococcinum. CVS is now in the business of making its own quack medicines. CVS has jumped on the very profitable homeopathic bandwagon and is deceiving its customers in new ways.

Unfortunately, CVS sells homeopathic remedies right next to real medicines. Deceptive and unethical, to say the least, especially if CVS is aware that homeopathic substances are fakery.

Oscillococcinum is a harmless sugar pill, but its effect is far from harmless. When Oscillococcinum keeps people from seeing a doctor --or worse, keeps parents from taking their kids to the pediatrician-- the harm can be very real: Some 23,000 Americans die from the flu each year. When people don't get a flu vaccine because they think that they can always take Oscillococcinum, that is also harmful.

People say, "I had a horrible cold [or headache or backache] and felt better after taking a homeopathic remedy." Putting aside the powerful placebo effect of homeopathic remedies, the reason you felt better is probably because you were going to get better with or without the homeopathic remedy: Most ailments resolve themselves on their own.

Homeopaths peddle remedies for things like malaria and even anthrax. If these homeopaths were licensed physicians, they'd be stripped of their ability to practice medicine in a heartbeat. Homeopathy has no place in modern medicine and should have no place on CVS' shelves.


  1. Bill, when will you stop being so foolish? You thin you can "prove" that homeopathic remedies do not work, but millions of users have actual experiences which can prove that your hypothetical postulates are merely fearmongering. If you really want to take on a public danger, how about the 27,000 that died last year in the US alone from prescription drugs? No one ever died from homeopathy. Quit your stupid crusade before you lose all credibility on other more meaningful issues!

  2. Let's dispense with the point about deaths from prescription drugs first: There are problems with many prescriptions drugs. People do die from them. But that is unrelated to the question of whether or not homeopathy works.

    The number of people using homeopathy also doesn't prove whether or not it works. Remember, millions of people used to be treated with blood letting for a wide variety of ailments. Medicine isn't a popularity contest.

    There have been a lot of studies looking into homeopathy, and not a single quality study has show any evidence that homeopathy is effective. Not one. When it comes to medicine, the burden of proof belongs to the person who says, "this works." Every study that's tried to prove that homeopathy has a real, biological effect has failed.

    Modern medicine is evidence based. Pre-modern medicine (around the time when homeopathy was invented) is based loosely on coincidence and association: If you have ailment A, and take substance B, and you feel better that must mean that substance B cured ailment A. If I have a headache and rub a rabbit's foot on my head and my headache goes away, does that mean that the rabbit's foot cured my headache? No.

    Unfortunately, homeopathy isn't restricted to relatively innocuous conditions such as headaches and allergies. Homeopaths treat very serious diseases like malaria and cancer. Sadly, children sometimes die when parents treat their kids with homeopathic remedies.

    There's another troubling aspect to homeopathy: It teaches bad science. There's a benefit when people understand how science and the world works. When people don't understand science we get things like global warming deniers and "intelligent design" proponents peddling pseudoscience.