Blog | Saturday, April 23, 2011

Homeopathy: Why is fraud legal?

Imagine hearing a commercial on the radio:
Send us money, and we won't send you anything in return.

No one would do that, right? How about this:
Send us your money and we'll send you an empty box.

Better? Not much. Now how is that different from:
Send us money and we'll send you stuff we'll call medicine that we claim will help you, but there's no actual active ingredients in it at all.

I don't think there's one bit of difference. Wouldn't you agree that that commercial is fraud, pure and simple? The problem is that the general public doesn't understand that the word "homeopathic" means "diluted beyond the point where it contains any active ingredients."

I've recently heard commercials for homeopathic vertigo treatments, eye drops for allergies, irritable bowel, and spider veins on legs. I'm tempted to contact the radio station and complain, but stopped short realizing that their first question is going to be, "But is it legal?"

That's the problem: it is. So what I want to know is, why?

I understand the structural reasons: There's lots of money to be made defrauding naive consumers, and those who rake it in by exploiting ignorance have convinced gullible legislators, both state and federal, to make it legal. But that doesn't make it right.

Seeing packages of homeopathic remedies sit next to actual, active chemical medicines on pharmacy shelves makes my blood boil. Who in their right mind would pay nearly $10 for sugar pills? Someone who doesn't realize that "homeopathic" means diluted out of existence, i.e., the vast majority of the general public.

Someone ought to do something. Because homeopathy is fraud; and fraud shouldn't be legal.

This post by Lucy Hornstein, MD, appeared at Get Better Health, a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.