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What is the nature of the lawsuit against CVS and Walmart? Homeopathic product sales are being targeted by chains.

Looking for a cold remedy at the pharmacy? Be cautious about what you choose: experts warn that some shelf options may be no better than sugar pills.

CVS and Walmart are embroiled in a legal battle over the sale of FDA-approved OTC medications alongside homoeopathic products, a type of alternative medicine based on diluted ingredients.

The Center for Inquiry, the nonprofit that filed the lawsuits, claims that this type of product placement is deceptive because it portrays homoeopathic products as equal to science-based medicines.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is little evidence that homoeopathic products are effective. While most are considered safe by experts, the Food and Drug Administration warns that it cannot guarantee their safety or effectiveness.

“Over-the-counter medication has to be proven safe and effective for the condition that it’s purported to treat,” said Kelly Karpa, a former pharmacist and professor in the department of medical education at East Tennessee State University. “(Whereas) homoeopathic products have their own set of conditions for marketing. They sort of got around all of that safety and efficacy.”

What exactly are homoeopathic medicines?

Homeopathy is an alternative medicine practise that dates back to the late 1700s. According to the FDA, practitioners believe that a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person can be used to treat symptoms and illnesses.

For example, because cutting onions can cause eyes to water, diluted red onion would be a homoeopathic treatment for itching or watering eyes.

Unlike pharmacology, which holds that a higher dosage usually results in a greater response, homoeopathy holds that the more diluted a substance is, the more potent it is.

Some medical professionals are concerned that homoeopathy products may contain toxic substances that have not been sufficiently diluted.

“The good thing about most of the products is that they’re mostly safe because they’re so diluted,” said Adriane Fugh-Berman, a pharmacology and physiology professor at Georgetown University Medical Center. However, if it fails to sufficiently weaken a toxic substance, “that could be an issue.”

Is homoeopathy a safe and effective treatment?
Based on 176 individual studies, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia published a paper in 2015 that found “no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homoeopathy was effective.”

“Homeopathy had never had any hardcore data that was consistent with what we now recognise as a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that clearly indicated efficacy,” Karpa explained.

Fugh-Berman acknowledges that most homoeopathic products are safe and may even have a placebo effect, but she objects to them being sold alongside FDA-approved medications on store shelves.

“Homeopathic preparations should be available for those who understand what they are and want to use them, but no one should buy sugar pills inadvertently,” she said.

Are homoeopathic products approved by the FDA?

Homeopathic products are typically labelled as such, with ingredients listed in dilutions such as 1x or 2c.

The FDA warns that there are currently no FDA-approved homoeopathic products, and that the agency cannot ensure that these drugs meet standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality. Despite this, sales have risen in recent years.

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