Archive for April 2010
Hundreds of sceptics will stage a “mass overdose” outside Boots stores around Britain tomorrow to protest against the chain’s continuing sale of homeopathic remedies and to argue that such treatments have no scientific basis.
The event ‑ called 10:23 ‑ will see the protesters swallowing the contents of entire bottles of homeopathic pills to illustrate their claims that such remedies “are nothing but sugar pills”.
It is being co-ordinated by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, a non-profit organisation dedicated to “developing and supporting the sceptical community”.
The “overdoses” will take place outside Boots stores in Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hampshire, Leeds, Leicester, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield. “Sympathy events” will also be held in Canada and Australia.
Homeopathy, which is based on treating people using highly diluted substances to trigger healing, was developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century.
Homeopaths say that water retains a memory of the substance, which has a therapeutic effect, although most scientists claim that such treatments are no better than placebos or sugar pills.
A spokesman for the event, which will begin at 10.23am, said the group had been moved to act by the evidence given to the Commons science and technology select committee last November.
“Hundreds of people were following the action together on Twitter, and sharing our general disbelief at the circus that was unfolding before our eyes,” he said. “To see a homeopathic doctor explaining to MPs how many times a remedy had to be tapped before it would imprint the water was just surreal. And for the spokesman of Boots to explain that they were happy to sell customers pills for which they have no evidence of effectiveness was an insult to many people.”
He added: “We believe it is unethical for the government and Boots (as a registered pharmacist) to continue to support what is essentially an 18th century magic ritual.”
Paul Bennett, professional standards director and superintendent pharmacist for Boots UK, said that homeopathy was recognised by the NHS and that all Boots pharmacists followed guidance on homeopathy issued by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
“Boots UK is committed to providing our customers with a wide range of healthcare products to suit their individual needs,” said Bennett. “We know that many people believe in the benefits of complementary medicines and we aim to offer the products we know our customers want.”
He said that Boots supported calls for more scientific research into the efficacy of homeopathic medicines, adding: “This would help our patients and customers make informed choices about using homeopathic medicines.”
Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, which has more than 1,450 members across Europe, said the 10:23 event would not advance the argument on homeopathy. “This is an ill-advised publicity stunt in very poor taste, which does nothing to advance the scientific debate about how homeopathy actually works,” she said.
In a statement, the society said that homeopathic remedies should be taken under the guidance of a registered homeopath, while over-the-counter homeopathic treatments should only be used as directed on the label.
It went on: “The society would not … expect any reaction to the proposed ‘overdose’ by this group unless, by chance, an individual in that group already had symptoms that matched that remedy at the time of taking it.”
The 10:23 spokesman said that the “mass overdose” could be the first of many such events held while the group waited for the select committee to deliver its report.
“We’ll be putting more pressure on homeopathic organisations and the government,” he said. “Initially we chose to target Boots because we wanted this first action to be about consumers, about something that everyone can immediately relate to. One of Britain’s top public health providers selling people pills that don’t work is, in our view, a scandal.”