There’s a belief among skeptics that homeopathic “medicine” — which dilutes an active ingredient until it’s basically non-existent — is useless. At worst, it doesn’t do anything to cure whatever ailment you have.
A review of FDA records obtained by STAT under the Freedom of Information Act paints a far grimmer picture: Babies who were given Hyland’s teething products turned blue and died. Babies had repeated seizures. Babies became delirious. Babies were airlifted to the hospital, where emergency room staff tried to figure out what had caused their legs and arms to start twitching.
Over a 10-year period, from 2006 to 2016, the FDA collected reports of “adverse events” in more than 370 children who had used Hyland’s homeopathic teething tablets or gel, a similar product that is applied directly to a baby’s gums. Agency records show eight cases in which babies were reported to have died after taking Hyland’s products, though the FDA says the question of whether those products caused the deaths is still under review.
The products are still being sold online, if not in all pharmacies.
The FDA records also call into question why it took so long for the government to respond:
“The FDA could bring the hammer down on them,” said Sarah Sorscher, an attorney for the nonprofit Public Citizen Health Research Group. “But it doesn’t. At the point where you have infants being hospitalized and deaths reported, it’s simply not acceptable for the agency to delay in taking action.”
But how could this possibly happen? If homeopathic products are void of any active ingredients, what’s causing the harm?
In investigating Hyland’s teething products, the FDA focused on an ingredient known as atropa belladonna, an herb known colloquially as “deadly nightshade.”
In diluted form, the substance is not expected to pose any health risk. In 2010, however, FDA inspectors who examined Hyland’s facilities criticized the company for substandard manufacturing practices and found inconsistent levels of atropa belladonna in its products.
Somehow, Hyland’s found a way to screw up doing nothing.
Regardless of how this particular investigation turns out, the takeaway is the same as always: homeopathic medicine isn’t medicine. It doesn’t fix problems — and, as we’re seeing now, it could make some problems worse. It’s irresponsible for parents to buy it, and it’s even more irresponsible for companies to sell it. If the government won’t regulate it, then pharmacies should do the responsible thing and refuse to sell products that don’t actually help their customers.
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