Pressure is mounting on Australian pharmacists to stop selling homeopathic products after a major review found there was no credible scientific evidence to support the alternative medicine. Despite scepticism about homeopathy among pharmacists, many of them sell homeopathic products that are marketed for illnesses including migraines, bleeding, persistent nausea and vomiting, coughs and colds, insomnia and arthritic pain.
But there are increasing calls for the pharmacists to abandon the products after a National Health and Medical Research Council review of homeopathy concluded there was no reliable evidence it could treat health conditions. The review, released earlier this month, also said: ''People who choose homeopathy instead of proven conventional treatment may put their health at risk if safe and evidence-based treatments are rejected or delayed in favour of homeopathic treatment.''
While the review has been criticised by homeopaths, who are appealing the finding, some doctors and pharmacists say it should make it unethical for pharmacists to continue stocking and selling homeopathic products. Under the Pharmacy Board of Australia code of conduct, pharmacists are required to practise ''in accordance with the current and accepted evidence base of the health profession, including clinical outcomes'' and by ''facilitating the quality use of therapeutic products based on the best available evidence and the patient or client's needs''.
John Dwyer, an immunologist and emeritus professor of medicine at the University of NSW, said given pharmacists were currently lobbying to perform more health care, such as vaccinations and disease screening, it was time they put their ethics ahead of profits and stopped selling useless homeopathic products. He said the increasing commercialisation of pharmacies had led many to stock a range of dubious complementary and alternative medicines, giving them an air of credibility that could mislead the public. ''One can only imagine that commercial reasons dominate,'' said Professor Dwyer, a spokesman for the group Friends of Science in Medicine.
Grant Kardachi, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, the professional body representing 18,000 pharmacists, said he planned to send a statement to members about the NHMRC report because homeopathy did not sit well with the PSA's aim for pharmacies to become more professional ''health hubs''. ''I think we'd be saying you should seriously consider, if you are stocking these products in your pharmacy, what that actually means. And you should be looking at other products in your pharmacy to treat patients' health conditions where you know there is more evidence,'' he said. ''You need to mindful of what sort of message you're trying to sell. Am I in the business of health and pharmacists doing the right thing by consumers? Or am I a retail outlet?''
But Greg Turnbull, a spokesman for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which represents community pharmacy owners, said it did not plan to do anything with the NHMRC review. He said it had not changed the guild's policy for pharmacists to use an ''evidence-based approach''.
NSW pharmacist Ian Carr said he had never stocked homeopathic products and hoped his colleagues would follow suit.
''I personally think that the professionalism of pharmacy is threatened by the selling of non-evidence-based products,'' he said.
Homeopaths believe that ''like treats like'', so they may use a substance that causes an illness to treat an illness, and that substances become more potent the more they are diluted.
April 20, 2014