A new code of ethics went into effect two weeks ago in New Zealand, requiring pharmacists to inform customers if a product “lacks scientific evidence of efficacy.”
In other words, if they’re buying homeopathic cough drops, pharmacy staff must tell them there’s no evidence the drops will help them.
It’s a small step forward, even though a better response would be to require pharmacies to stop selling products that have no evidence of working. That used to be in the code of ethics, but pharmacies routinely ignored the suggestion in order to cash in on popular, but useless, “remedies.” So rather than fight a losing battle, the Pharmacy Council is now asking pharmacists to at least inform customers that something they’re buying may not help them. Again, it’s something.
Unfortunately, even that ethical suggestion isn’t being adopted. A new report from the New Zealand-based Newsroom finds that many pharmacies aren’t telling their patients anything useful when it comes to buying alternative (pseudo-)medicines.
Four Auckland pharmacies visited by Newsroom were asked if a homeopathic product would work. In three cases a staff member said the product would work. The fourth pharmacy said there was no evidence “yet” the product would work.
Pharmacy staff said a liquid labelled arnica could heal bruises, reduce swelling after dental procedures and could speed up healing after surgery. Some did mention the product was homeopathic which they said made it “more natural” than other treatments.
None of the pharmacies explained the level of dilution of a “30C” homeopathic product meant there was infinitesimal likelihood any trace of the active ingredient remained. 30C is a common homeopathic dilution of ingredient with water. A 30C solution contains less than one part per million million million million million million million million million million of the original ingredient.
It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but those pharmacies are parts of larger chains. They’re not one-off mom-and-pop stores. And it’s not that they’re simply letting the purchases go through — the staff is sending the wrong messages by suggesting the homeopathic products might provide a benefit.
If pharmacists are in the business of helping patients, these actions violate the entire basis for their profession.
There is a way to push back, though, if people complain about a particular pharmacist or pharmacy:
… if a complaint about a homeopathic product being sold without full disclosure of a lack of evidence was received by the council, the matter would be referred to an Independent Professional Conduct Committee.
After an investigation a recommendation would be made to the council which could range from a letter of concern being sent to the pharmacist, to the complaint being sent to the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
For the most part, that’s a long way of saying offenders will get a slap on the wrist. Their patients, meanwhile, are going to be worse off because they think they’re healing themselves when that’s not the case at all. They deserve better, and pharmacists ought to be fighting on their behalf instead of shilling for companies selling bogus remedies that look and feel like the real thing.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Geoffrey for the link)