NZ Skeptics Invite Homeopaths to Join Campaign

Following on from the Closeup TV interview, we decided to put up a challenge of our own to the NZ Council of Homeopaths to join the campaign. Here's why:

The New Zealand Skeptics are inviting homeopaths to join their call for pharmacies to stop selling homeopathic products, as both groups are opposed to the practice, albeit for different reasons.

The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths and others in the trade have stated that their customers require lengthy personalised sessions to "match the energy of the potency of the remedy with the person". According to homeopath Mary Glaisyer, this involves matching symptoms with the huge range of materials on which homeopaths base their ultra-diluted preparations. For example, causticum, more mundanely known as potassium hydroxide, is said to manifest its homeopathic action in "paralytic affections" and "seems to choose preferable [sic] dark-complexioned and rigid-fibered persons".

Pharmacists who sell homeopathic products in the same way they sell deodorants and perfumed soaps are clearly not meeting basic homeopathic practice. When a number of pharmacies in Christchurch were checked by purchasers of these products, no pharmacy staff asked about symptoms; one simply asked "do you want vitamins with that?".

The New Zealand Skeptics have been calling for pharmacies to stop selling homeopathic products as they contend there are consumer rights issues involving informed consent and misleading labelling.

"Homeopathy involves diluting a material until there isn't anything left of it at all - the NZ Council of Homeopaths have admitted that. But we know 94% of homeopathic customers aren't aware of this. They think their expensive bottle of drops actually contains the ingredients listed on the label- not water which once upon a time had some of that in it," says Skeptics Chair Vicki Hyde. "Stocking it next to genuine medical products gives homeopathic products credibility which they don't deserve."

Many people equate homeopathic products with herbal products, hence the belief that the products contain real substance. In addition, the products are commonly used for conditions which get better with time regardless of treatment, as well as exploiting the well-known placebo effect.

Hyde was disturbed to hear one pharmacist say that he didn't care if the industry was exploiting the placebo effect to claim results, he stocked the products because people would buy them.

"We don't think it's a good idea for health practitioners to mislead people. They should tell them that they are selling water for $10 a teaspoon. And we think the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths should take an ethical stand by calling on their product manufacturers to stop supplying pharmacies."

Community pharmacists in Canada have recently been banned by their professional regulators from selling non-licensed herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies on the grounds of public safety. The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities has stated that "pharmacists are obliged to hold the health and safety of the public or patient as their first and foremost consideration" and cites the need to ensure safety, efficacy and quality in products offered by pharmacists.

The call for the NZ Skeptics and homeopaths to join forces is not the first time such action has been considered. In 2002, when an Auckland pharmacy starting selling products labelled homeopathic "meningococcal vaccine" and homeopathic "hepatitis B vaccine", Hyde and then-president of the NZ Homeopathic Society, the late Bruce Barwell, discussed a joint release condemning this highly dangerous move. Hyde was concerned that relying on water as a vaccine would lead to unnecessary deaths - she already had notes from a Coroner's Court where a baby being treated with homeopathic ear drops died of meningitis.

"It's bad enough when the product labelling misleads people into thinking they are buying something more than water - it's far worse when they misuse a word like vaccine in such a life-threatening area."

The homeopaths were concerned then, as now, that their 200-year-old practices were being misrepresented by non-homeopaths keen to benefit from the multi-million-dollar industry.

"If the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths joins the New Zealand Skeptics in encouraging pharmacists to be ethical enough to stop stocking these products, then we both will have done something towards improving the health of New Zealanders."

Hyde has already had people contact her asking for a list of ethical pharmacists that they can support with their business. She says the NZ Skeptics are happy to hear from any pharmacy willing to take a stand on this issue, and will start to create a database for concerned members of the public.

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