Following a complaint, the Pharmacy Council has reminded New Zealand pharmacists they must be able to counsel patients about the current evidence for alternative medicines such homeopathy.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare believes it is unethical for pharmacists to sell homeopathic products, as there is no evidence they are effective.

Homeopathic products are typically diluted to the point where no active ingredients remain.

The Pharmacy Council is the body legally responsible under section 118(i) of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act for setting ethical standards for New Zealand pharmacists. In their latest newsletter last week, they reminded pharmacists of their responsibilities regarding alternative medicines:

Homeopathy in particular has had much attention over recent times, specifically regarding its plausibility and efficacy.

Pharmacists should be able to counsel patients about complementary and alternative medicines’ general use, the current evidence and any safety issues, including their use with other medications.

The Pharmacy Council’s Safe Effective Pharmacy Practice Code of Ethics 2011 states that pharmacists must:

Only purchase, supply or promote any medicine, complementary therapy, herbal remedy or other healthcare product where there is no reason to doubt its quality or safety and when there is credible evidence of efficacy.

In the case of homeopathic products, which are typically diluted to the point where no active ingredients remain, there is a strong scientific consensus that there is no credible evidence that any homeopathic products are effective. In March, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council released the findings of its rigorous review of the evidence for homeopathy. They concluded that:

Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

Following this report, which was consistent with previous evidence-based findings, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) issued a position statement on homeopathy which included their view that:

Pharmacists should not sell, recommend, or support the use of homeopathic products.

In a subsequent interview on Radio New Zealand, chair of the New Zealand Medical Association Dr Stephen Child agreed that homeopathy is “just rubbish”. Although he noted it is not the NZMA’s place to “instruct pharmacists what to stock and what not to stock”, in response to the question of if he would support homeopathic products coming off shelves he said:

Well yes, it’s an ineffective treatment.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare believes it is unethical for pharmacies to sell homeopathic products to consumers without informing them that there is no evidence the products are effective. We support pharmacists who choose to remove homeopathic products from their shelves, like Australian pharmacist Grant McGill did in June, stating that he was “Just standing up for what is right and what I believe in – patient outcomes”.

Co-founder of the Society for Science Based Healthcare, Mark Hanna, said:

We trust pharmacists to give reliable health advice, but when some pharmacies promote homeopathy alongside real medicine they violate that trust.

Since 2013, the Society for Science Based Healthcare has made seven complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority regarding misleading advertising of homeopathic products. The latest of these decisions was released today, after Simillimum Pharmacy in Wellington removed multiple misleading claims from their website about the efficacy of homeopathic products they sell.

All seven of the Society for Science Based Healthcare’s complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about the promotion of homeopathy in pharmacies have been successful. However, many New Zealand pharmacies still stock homeopathic products.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare contacted the Pharmacy Council in November 2014 regarding an incident in which an Auckland pharmacy recommended and sold a homeopathic product to a consumer who didn’t realise at the time that there was no evidence to support the product’s efficacy. We believe the pharmacy in question has since moved its homeopathic products to a location behind the counter.

The message regarding homeopathic products in the Pharmacy Council’s latest newsletter was one of their responses to the complaint from the Society for Science Based Healthcare.

Homeopathy Warning from Pharmacies Regulator