Beware the Phony Pharmacists!

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Mefiante (October 31, 2007, 11:36:32 AM):
Dr ’Luthon64 and I think we have recently noticed a growth in the number of pharmacies, including hypermarket-like outlets such as Dischem, that stock various alternative nostrums, especially those of the homoeopathic kind. Purported cures are on offer for both humans and animals, covering a range of common maladies from depression, headaches, indigestion, and so on.

It is debatable whether this increase is actually happening or merely the result of us noticing it more, although one specific Weleda pharmacy near us recently began offering courses in aromatherapy, crystal healing and magnetic therapy, and also sells the requisite oils, crystals and magnets. On grocery shopping days we pass the entrance of this pharmacy. The entrance allows a clear view of the dispensary where we frequently see the pharmacist vigorously shaking plastic bottles of what appears to be water and squirting small volumes into small brown glass bottles bearing white and green labels. These little brown bottles are, of course, the containers the homoeopathic preparations are sold in.

At the weekend, an acquaintance of ours visited and told us about an incident she had been involved in at this pharmacy. She had been in Cape Town on business the week before and had contracted ’flu. She went to the pharmacy and asked for some aspirin-based off-the-shelf drug that would give her symptomatic relief. The pharmacist at first actually refused to sell the requested item, saying that he didn’t believe in it! Instead, he offered first a homoeopathic replacement and then some Chinese concoction of unknown composition.

Fortunately, our friend knows her stuff and insisted on her original request unless the pharmacist could meet her challenge to him: she would randomly pick three different homoeopathic cures from the pharmacy’s shelf (which held about 30 or so different ones) and put a little of each into separate beakers. If the pharmacist could correctly identify all three, she would buy what he recommended. That, reportedly, is when he had the good grace to shut up and give her what she had originally asked for.

bluegray (October 31, 2007, 12:02:56 PM):
I have met at least two people, one trained as a pharmacist and the other as a microbiologists of some sort. Both at reputable universities too. They seemed to know their subject reasonably well, and I'm sure they know much more than me about chemistry and really what goes into the medicine we take. However, when I asked about homeopathic medicine, it seems all this knowledge go out the window. They will both use and sell these products. They simply have not bothered to look into the evidence or published studies and instead just believe what they are told. When I point out that if homeopathic medicine worked as they believe, it would go against all their training as scientists and what they know about their field, they will have any number of excuses. They are both also aware of the placebo effect.

It's dangerous that even the people who are supposed to know better and who are trusted to know their field, are often uncritical in their thinking.
I suspect it pays better too...

Mefiante (October 31, 2007, 13:48:36 PM):
It's dangerous that even the people who are supposed to know better and who are trusted to know their field, are often uncritical in their thinking.
Agreed, though the pharmacist I wrote of was deliberately obstructive, even towards his own business interests. If nothing else, homoeopathic preparations are usually quite harmless because of their extraordinary dilutions, although I'm aware of one in powder form that consists mostly of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) for the treatment of heartburn and indigestion. It is labelled "Homeopathic" and supposedly, it's all the other ingredients that occur in homoeopathic dilutions with the CaCO3 powder that accounts for the preparation's effectiveness. Conventional medical practitioners are generally well aware of CaCO3's antacid properties that require no augmentation by submicroscopic traces of activated charcoal and such.

While I understand that a pharmacy is first and foremost a business and that a greater diversity of products on sale should go towards improved profitability, I too struggle to come to terms with the idea that someone with a B.Sc. degree can so readily jettison the core principles they were taught for three or more years.

Does anyone know whether pharmacists are bound by the Hippocratic Oath?

Mefiante (December 14, 2007, 10:19:02 AM):
On the topic of homoeopathy, here’s a scathing UK article about its spill-over into Africa. The original posting was removed after the UK Society of Homeopaths asked that this be done.

Wandapec (May 03, 2008, 20:53:14 PM):
I studied pharmacy and qualified in '95. During our studies we were encouraged to do some hours in a pharmacy during the holidays. This was my first introduction to homeopathy. On a number of occasions with different lecturers, questions were asked as to why we did not have a course in homeopathy. On all occasions the answer was plain and simple - there is no scientific basis for the use and application of homeopathy. Pharmacy was based on the use of chemicals where the structure of the chemical has an effect on a receptor, or chemical etc. in some part of the body that resulted in some sort of reaction.

However, when working in pharmacy as a pharmacy student or pharmacy intern, I suppose like most industries when you start out you are just a little kippie, you did what you were told! This meant that if someone came in and asked for some homeopathic remedy, instead of something that really worked, you would go over to the shelf and read the label to find something that would fix the problem. (We used to joke about the claims the bottles made all the time - the same mixture could be used for heartburn, headaches, tinitis and athletes foot! :) ) There is good money in homeopathic preparations and thanks to popular magazines and TV programmes the demand continues to drive supply.

We didn't have any sort of Hippocratic Oath that we had to comply to. I think there should be one though.


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