I have written about the ethics of pharmacists selling homeopathic preparations pretending they are effective medicines often – not just on this blog, but also in medical journals (see for instance here and here) and in our recent book. So, maybe I should give it a rest?
I believe that the issue is far too important not to remain silent about it.
A recent article in the ‘Australian Journal of pharmacy’ caught my eye. As it makes a new and relevant point, I will quote some short excerpts for you:
One of the greatest criticisms pharmacists face is the ranging of homeopathic products in pharmacies. It is difficult to deny that ranging homeopathic products provides a level of legitimacy to these products that they do not deserve.
Conclusive evidence now exists  that homeopathy does not work. This is different from a lack of evidence for an effect; this is specific evidence that shows that this modality cannot and does not provide any of the purported benefits or mechanisms of action.
This evidence for lack of effect is important, due to the ethical responsibilities of pharmacists to provide evidence-based medicine. Specifically, from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s Code of Ethics :
Care Principle 1 g)
Before recommending a therapeutic product, considers available evidence and supports the patient to make an informed choice and only supplies a product when satisfied that it is appropriate and the person understands how to use it correctly.
It is not possible to adhere to this principle while also selling homeopathic and other non-EBM products – it is incumbent on pharmacists to always notify a patient that homeopathic medicines cannot work. Ranging homeopathic products therefore opens a pharmacist up to conflict of interest, where their professional judgement tells them that there is no benefit to a product, yet a patient wishes to purchase it anyway, even when advised not to. Not ranging a product is the only method of preventing this conflict.
Pharmacists may also find themselves in position where the pharmacy they work in ranges homeopathic or other non-EBM products, yet they do not want to be involved in the sale or recommendation of these products. In this situation, it is important to remember that the code of ethics requires that a pharmacist does not undertake any action or role if their judgement determines that this is not the correct course of action.
Integrity Principle 2
A pharmacist only practises under conditions which uphold the professional independence, judgement and integrity of themselves and others.
This leads to the professional risk a pharmacist puts themselves in when recommending or selling a product that lacks evidence … any breach of the code of ethics can be the basis of a report to the Pharmacy Board for professional misconduct. If a pharmacist were to be referred to the Pharmacy Board for recommending a non-EBM product, pharmacists will be put in the position of having to justify their decision to supply a product that has no evidence, especially if this supply harms a patient or delays them from accessing effective treatment. In addition, it will not be possible to make a case defending the decision to supply non-EBM products based on pressures from employers wishes, due to Integrity Principle 2.
Clearly, the use of Non-EBM products, including homeopathy, puts consumers at risk due to delayed treatment and the risk of unexpected outcomes. It also puts pharmacists at risk of professional and ethical reprimand. Relying on evidence, and having a working knowledge of how to access and assess this evidence, remains a critical part of the role of pharmacists in all areas of practice.
END OF QUOTE
I find this comment important: we all knew (and I have dwelled on it repeatedly) that pharmacists can put consumers at risk when they sell homeopathic remedies masquerading as medicines (while in truth they are placebos that cure absolutely nothing). What few people so far appreciated, I think, is the fact that pharmacists also put themselves at risk.
Of course, you might say, this is a view from Australia, and it might not apply elsewhere. But I think, because the codes of ethics differ only marginally from country to country, it might well apply everywhere. If that is so, pharmacists across the globe – most of them do sell homeopathics regularly – are in danger of breaking their own codes of ethics, if they recommend or sell homeopathic products. And violating professional ethics must mean that pharmacists are vulnerable to reprimands.
Perhaps we should all go to our next pharmacy, ask for some advice about homeopathy, and test this hypothesis!