Loretta Marron OAM, CEO Friends of Medicine in Science writes:

Following the recent NHMRC paper exposing homeopathic remedies as placebos, a pharmacy industry poll overwhelmingly condemned selling them. This is not the only product with no proven health benefits sold by pharmacists. Why are these ‘trusted’ professionals exploiting their customers?

The early history of health care is dominated by aggressive interventions on desperately ill patients. Cruel and deadly practices included bloodletting, intestinal purging and blistering, sometimes followed by large doses of toxic mercury and arsenic. These barbaric interventions were useless and, more often than not, contributed to the patient’s death.

Now in our highly scientific 21st Century, alternative medicine is seeping into the heart of our communities via the front door, as ‘trusted’ pharmacists, encouraged to “capitalise on consumer sentiment”, are lured by greedy profit-making to embrace quackery.

Pills, patches, pads, potions and lotions line the crowded shelves as patients navigate the narrow alleys to the prescription counters. Claiming to remove fat from your tummy, wax from your ears,  pain from your knees or to suck toxins out through your feet, these nonsense products are useless profit-makers.

For babies, homeopathic products for teething pain and colic; for children vitamin lollies; and for students, special formulations for exam stress and to help them perform in “peak condition”. These sit side-by-side with bangles, bands, baubles, magnets and crystals, all claiming magical healing powers.

Tucked in the corner, you might find a clinic proclaiming the benefits of naturopathy. Iridology, Vega, Live Blood Analysis and other alternative pathology testing, falsely claim to test for allergies or nutritional deficiencies to convince you to spend more money. Staffed by smiling faces boasting ‘expertise’ in herbals, homeopathics and that elusive ‘wellness’  – no appointment necessary.

Pharmacies are frontline agents of primary care. Part of their role is to protect consumers from the fraudulent and unscientific. Pharmacists must be “personally and properly persuaded” of the safety and effectiveness of the goods in their shops. But with deals negotiated behind closed doors by the marketing departments of “Big Vitamin”, with no professional input, it remains a free-for-all.

There is a great deal of confusion about ‘alternative medicines’. Patients are seldom able to critically evaluate the conflicting and often unsubstantiated claims.  Selling medically useless products is liable to create even more confusion in patients’ minds. Can patients any longer trust pharmacists who sell them unproven rubbish?

Pharmacies can be owned by pharmacists only. They argue that they must offer these alternatives. Are they not ignoring science and putting their profits before their patients’ health? How can they possibly claim to be part of the health care team – together with the patient’s GPs and specialists – if they betray their trust by selling placebos – all for the sake of profit?

As more pharmacists speak out, why will they all not listen and stop this unethical charade?



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