I spent this Saturday overdosing on untested medicines. Not actual medicine, of course, in fact, nothing worse than a handful of sugar pressed into medical looking shapes and bottled up with specious claims to cure serious symptoms. Why? Well, along with the Sceptics in the Pub this mass overdose was organised to highlight the support Boots, a high street chemist, tacitly gives to the physically impossible claims of homeopaths.
Being made of nothing but sugar, these pills are entirely harmless, but the credibility that Boots and other high street chemists lend to these cures acts to confuse the public about the effectiveness of the tested and proven remedies available elsewhere in their shops. By promoting, even passively, these sham treatments, they are misdirecting their customers towards products which will not work, and allowing two very different standards of truth to be applied.
Using a homeopathic concoction to treat a bruise (which will heal itself given a little time) won't cause anyone any harm and will make Boots a little money. Elsewhere in the health system homeopathic practitioners push these impossible archaic ideas as cures for serious conditions where not receiving the proper, proven, treatment drastically decreases the quality of life of suffering people.
These non-treatments are not even labelled with suitable warnings, and in the Boots Reading Oracle branch at least are displayed prominently on the aisle where people queue to reach the counter where genuine prescriptions are dispensed. This can only add to the potential for the public to confuse a homeopathic remedy with real medicines.
Boots, and other licensed pharmacies, should restrict themselves to selling products which make claims of effectiveness that can be tested. They are given special rights by the government to act on the front line of healthcare, and are rightly seen by the public as a trusted source of information on medications. We should not let them endorse products as health treatments when there is no scientific basis for this.
Update: le canard noir has some parallel thoughts.