The lawsuit is very real, and the claim being made is very accurate. Both CVS and Walmart are indeed selling fake medicine to consumers.
Wander into either store in any city and you will find on the shelves medications that are of course genuine. Sitting with these are also fake medications that are boxes that contain what is in effect sugar pills that do not do what is claimed on the back of the box.
You think I’m kidding .. right?
Nope, this is dead serious.
The fake medicines all fall under one generic term – homeopathy.
Just how fake this stuff is truly is mind blowing, so before we dig into the lawsuit we better take a quick crack at what homeopathy claims to be and just how deeply pseudoscientific it actually is.
Homeopathy – Literally Nothing
I’ve written about this before (see here). Because it still sits there on the shelf conning people, I’ll simply keep on yelling about it.
The supposed claim, dreamed up by a chap named Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, is that like cures like. For example, if you have trouble sleeping, then your Homeopathy remedy will probably have been made using caffeine, a substance that causes you to stay awake. It is basically an extremely diluted version of the substance that supposedly caused the complaint, hence if “like cures like” it will fix you. This however is dilution on a logarithmic scale. A typical remedy can be as “potent” as 30C or might even be 100C.
What does that mean?
Take 1 part of the raw ingredient, add 100 parts of water, and then vigorously shake by 10 hard strikes against an elastic body. This is called “succussion”. This is 1C. Now take 1 part of the 1C and add 100 parts of water, do the same and you have 2C. Keep repeating until you get to 30C.
The claim is that a solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher potency, and so these more dilute substances are considered by homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting remedies.
To help you wrap your head around this, a 12C solution is equivalent to a “pinch of salt that has been diluted within a volume of water that is equivalent to all the water within both the North and South Atlantic Oceans”. 13C is one drop of that diluted in all the water on the planet.
In other words, by the time you get to 30C you are dealing with a volume of water about the size of our solar system, or to put that another way, what you are given contains no active molecules of the original at all.
How does this supposedly work?
The claim is that water has memory.
What is truly bizarre about this “water memory” claim is that this remedy is supposed to be magically infused with the property of the ingredient that you started with and to have somehow “forgotten” all about anything and everything else that ever came into contact with it. (Hint: the secret of why plumbing pays rather well as a job is that it’s not all water).
If you are now beginning to think, “But that’s absurd” then you get it, because this is indeed pseudoscientific nonsense and all you actually have at best is a placebo. This is not about some herbal remedy that just might do something, instead it is literally magical thinking.
Ah but what if it works
You might of course think, “who cares is if sounds like nonsense, if it actually works then we are on to something”.
The flaw there is that when put through a proper rigorous double-blinded scientific clinical trial it is proven to not actually work at all. The Wikipedia page that describes the evidence and efficacy of homeopathy lays it all out very clearly …
A review conducted in 2010 of all the pertinent studies of “best evidence” produced by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that “the most reliable evidence — that produced by Cochrane reviews — fails to demonstrate that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.”
So why does it thrive, why do CVS and Walmart sell it?
It remains popular and people want it, so they sell it.
Since it contains no substances, not only does it do no harm, but it is also rather profitable to sell. It also does not fall into a category that requires regulation.
Since it contains nothing, then there is nothing to regulate.
A few years back in 2018 an organisation called CFI launched consumer-protection lawsuits against both CVS and Walmart for running what is a rather blatant con. The core issue is not just that they sell homeopathy, but that they present it within stores by putting it on shelves along with the real medicine and so craft an aura of legitimacy and credibility.
Side Note: CFI is a non-profit that goes after all the pseudoscientific stuff in society. You can perhaps think of them as the crossroads between scientific skepticism and consumer protection. (See Wikipedia page here for details all about them)
That lawsuit has been slowly grinding forwards.
In 2020 the lawsuits were dismissed and so it appeared that the financial muscle of these giant corporations had won the right to continue to scam consumers with utter impunity.
CFI did not give up, they appealed.
On Sep 29, 2022 the latest update on how it is all progressing after four years of effort was published via a CFI press release …
This morning, a three judge panel for the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest court in the District, reversed the dismissal of suits the Center for Inquiry brought against Walmart and CVS over claims that they deceived customers by marketing fake medicine as if it were real.
Walmart and CVS shelve homeopathic products alongside real medicine. This placement is deceptive to consumers who can easily confuse it for scientifically-tested products that provably work – which they are not. CFI’s suits had been dismissed by two lower D.C. courts.
But today, in a unanimous opinion written by Senior Judge Phyllis D. Thompson, the appeals court ruled that the placement of products on a store shelf does, in fact, communicate information to consumers that they can rely upon and be deceived by.
In addition, the court reversed the lower courts’ rulings that held CFI cannot bring claims on behalf of consumers under the D.C. law because it is not a consumer protection organization. The appellate court correctly determined that CFI’s longstanding work against the fraud of homeopathy and all pseudoscience qualifies it as a consumer protection organization.
You can read the court’s full opinion HERE.
The real battle is still ahead. This however is a significant step forward.
Be aware that both CVS and Walmart continue with their deceptive trade practise. To be specific, this is from page 26 of the court’s full opinion …
… the defendant retailers market themselves as offering products that will enable customers to get healthy; persons suffering an ailment will often turn to the pharmacy section of their neighborhood Walmart (or CVS) for relief; studies and patient experience have shown that homeopathic products are not effective; Walmart and CVS present homeopathic products alongside FDA-approved over- the-counter products, under aisle signs indicating that the aisles contain remedies for pain, colds, heartburn, and other conditions; and the retailers do so without informing customers that there is no scientific evidence that homeopathic products have any value in treating those symptoms and diseases. These factual allegations plausibly support an inference that, through their product placement practices, Walmart and CVS mislead consumers into believing that homeopathic products are equivalent alternatives to FDA-approved over-the-counter drugs…
More Details via CFI
One Last Thought
To those that wonder if CVS and Walmart are “ taking the piss “, the answer is a resounding “yes”, literally. There are Homeopathy remedies that use Urine as the starting point before they then proceed to thankfully dilute it out of existence.
To those that make the observation that the colloquial translation of that Irish term into US speak is “fucking with you”, then it is a thought that still remains true, literally. There are also Homeopathy remedies that start with Semen as the base. I really really don’t want to know where they got that from. Probably best to not ask.