Will a lawsuit leave CVS and Walgreens feeling sick over homeopathic remedies?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/vgajic
Oct 07, 2022

Major retail pharmacies are facing legal battles over placing homeopathic remedies in the medicine aisle with the rest of the pills.

Lawsuits originally filed in 2018 and 2019 against CVS and Walgreens, respectively, by non-profit organization Center for Inquiry (CFI) alleged that displaying homeopathic products as medicine was deceptive and in violation of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), according to Ars Technica. Lower courts dismissed the lawsuits, but now the District’s highest court has unanimously decided to allow the trials to move forward.

While some customers may read “homeopathy” as synonymous with “natural,” homeopathy has a specific technical meaning. Homeopathy is based on an alternative interpretation of chemistry that is seen as inconsistent with contemporary science. Homeopathic practitioners believe that certain ingredients that would cause illness in healthy people, when diluted in water, imbue the water with the ability to fight that illness. The current scientific consensus is that pills containing substances that have been so diluted have no active ingredient, thus no mechanism of action.

Skeptic and debunker James Randi would frequently demonstrate the inefficacy of homeopathic remedies by downing an entire bottle of homeopathic sleep aids on-stage during speeches, as he discussed in a YouTube video embedded in a 2011 NPR article. The stunt inspired a yearly event by UK skeptic group 10:23 Campaign where members would megadose homeopathic sleep aids — sometimes at one million times the recommended dose — to demonstrate that they had no effect.

The regulatory gray era governing homeopathic remedies in the U.S. has occasionally had serious ramifications for customer safety.

For instance in 2009, cold remedy Zicam was marketed as homeopathic despite containing a significant amount of zinc, according to a Quad City Herald article on the debacle. While in a true homeopathic remedy the zinc would have been diluted near or past the point of non-existence, the amount of zinc in Zicam was concentrated enough to cause permanent anosmia (loss of smell) in some customers, leading to a U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) intervention.

In 2019 the FDA issued draft guidance for an enforcement approach to homeopathic products. No homeopathic products have been approved by the FDA.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What should a retailer’s responsibility be when it comes to informing customers of the effectiveness or lack thereof of the products it sells? How should retail stores position homeopathic remedies and other types of remedies that may not have scientifically supported value?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Reasonable or not, retailers are responsible for the products they sell just a much as a plumber or doctor is expected to be accountable for the quality of their services."
"One might ask why it’s okay for them to carry vitamins as well — after all, inflated claims are made about them all the time."
"Only if it can be proven that retailers knowingly sell harmful products without warnings should they be liable."

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17 Comments on "Will a lawsuit leave CVS and Walgreens feeling sick over homeopathic remedies?"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I border on oversimplifying of the situation when I say that manufacturers of many products are required by federal law to present the possible risks and warnings on their product. This should move the liability away from those that sell these products. Private-label products should carry the same warnings or retailers that sell their private label could be liable. Only if it can be proven that retailers knowingly sell harmful products without warnings should they be liable.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

Reasonable or not, retailers are responsible for the products they sell just a much as a plumber or doctor is expected to be accountable for the quality of their services. In this day and age of digital signage, new store formats and websites it shouldn’t be hard to advise, warn or inform customers when they are using non-traditional products.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Retailers run the risk of damaging their reputation when selling products that are “bad” – whether “bad” means ineffective, visually or gustatorily unappealing, deceptive, etc. While I’m a caveat emptor believer, there’s a limit, and when health is on the line, these products are over that limit.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I believe that if you sell a product you have a responsibility to consumers to ensure that product is safe and will deliver the results the manufacturer says it will deliver.

Some of these homeopathic items have no effect, while others may have a diverse interaction when taken with medications prescribed by a doctor. Knowing that the FDA has not approved a single homeopathic product is reason enough for me to pass them by.

storewanderer
Guest
3 months 29 days ago

And some of the homeopathic products do actually work too. For some people, in some situations. Adding that part in.

Just like the real medicines. Sometimes they work better than other times.

The great thing about a store catering to a variety of consumers is it can sell various items. Customer A doesn’t want any homeopathic stuff but Customer B does and it works out for them. Everyone is happy.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Good points!

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Retailers who sell medical products to their customers have a responsibility to protect their customers from products that are misleading at best and dangerous at worst. Homeopathy falls into that category. These “drugs” are only legal when their dilution shows no ill (or any) effects on patients. If these stores insist on carrying homeopathic remedies, they belong with vitamins and dietary supplements, not with the other drugs. Why not put cigarettes next to asthma medications? There was an alternative view at one time, that smoking helps relax the lungs.

Chemistry is an exact science. There are no “alternative” truths here. If CVS and Walgreens wanted to demonstrate that they care about the health of their customers, they wouldn’t sell these products.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Gary, How many products would you find in CVS and Walgreens that are not good for the health of their customers?

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Homeopathic is a category that has been on a slippery slope for decades. I suspect the FDA will provide more guidance in the future. At any rate, the retailers are accountable for educating their customers on the efficacy of these remedies.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Don’t count on the FDA. The FDA would require clinical trials similar to that of drugs. They are only concerned that the homeopathic remedies (or supplements) don’t make drug claims.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Homeopathy (and supplements) are the Wild West of drugs. The FDA does not regulate them and only reacts after a problem occurs. If our regulating body does not set the standard, how will the retailer know if the specific products are effective or dangerous?

In the EU, the governing bodies put the onus on the “author” of the drug. The authors are the companies or doctors who sell or prescribe them. The authors can lose their licenses or be shut down.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Correct. That’s why I say, why stop with homeopathy? There are vitamins, minerals and all kinds of stuff they sell that have inflated (or not) claims around them. I mean, for me, zinc is a miracle cure. But is it? Who knows? Should it be sold in the cold remedy aisle? And when was the last time that presence in a pharmacy guaranteed effectiveness of anything?

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

It doesn’t matter if homeopathic medicine works or not (my own opinion is “sometimes”). What does matter is that it’s a different universe than traditional pharma. One might ask why it’s okay for them to carry vitamins as well — after all, inflated claims are made about them all the time.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Exactly, Paula. “One might ask why it’s okay for them to carry vitamins as well — after all, inflated claims are made about them all the time.” Let’s add supplements to the list.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Customers in drug stores have a reasonable expectation that the items displayed as medicine are just that – medicine. If drug stores want to sell homeopathic remedies they should be displayed separately in a section devoted to homeopathic items with information stating the products should not be considered medicine. This in no way absolves the manufacturers from their responsibility for providing the correct labeling on the products.

storewanderer
Guest
3 months 29 days ago

Nothing deceptive. The products are clearly labeled homeopathic and missing various labels that supposed “real” medicines have.

This looks to be a move by some group that doesn’t want competition from homeopathic products for some reason. Based on what I’m seeing they shouldn’t be concerned, the drug chains like CVS and Walgreens are moving very few of the homeopathic products, they often end up expiring or clearancing out.

If the products don’t work, there is nothing to be afraid of.

I’ve had plenty of real medicines that don’t work as advertised too….

Suzanne331
Guest

The liability falls on the product manufacturer for claims, not the retailer. Who is to say that a shampoo leaves your hair shiny and soft, or a lipstick will stay on all day? My thought is that retailers should treat this line as they do other products, with smart decision making on who they decide to carry.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Reasonable or not, retailers are responsible for the products they sell just a much as a plumber or doctor is expected to be accountable for the quality of their services."
"One might ask why it’s okay for them to carry vitamins as well — after all, inflated claims are made about them all the time."
"Only if it can be proven that retailers knowingly sell harmful products without warnings should they be liable."

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