Homeopathic remedies: the naked emperor changes outfits

Homeopathic remedies: the naked emperor changes outfits

Homeopathic remedies enjoy a distinct legal status in the United States apparently conferred only on "alternative" medicine.  It is fraudulent to sell homeopathic remedies as an effective treatment for any disease or condition because these products contain only water or water dripped on a table made of a medically inert substance, such as sugar.  Yet, at the same time, it is legal to sell homeopathic remedies because a federal statute employs the fiction that they are drugs subject to FDA jurisdiction, even thought the FDA won't have anything to do with them. This has resulted in something of a "shooting fish in a barrel" type class action lawsuit that is becoming a legal subspecialty.  The plaintiffs' attorneys simply stand over the barrel with a shotgun waiting for the homeopathic remedy to swim by and "boom" -- instant lawsuit. Numerous class actions against homeopathic remedy maufacturers, based on fraud and violation of various consumer protection laws, are pending or have been settled in the U.S.

This has soured at least one homeopathic remedy manufacturer on the U.S. market.  Heel Group, a German manufacturer of homeopathic remedies, announced it is ceasing all U.S. and Canadian operations.  As a company press release explains:

In the USA and Canada, manufacturers of OTC homeopathic medicinal products have been confronted with accusations through class action lawsuits. Heel Inc., the Heel Group’s U.S.-based subsidiary, was also faced with two such attempts recently. Both cases have been settled without conceding the allegations. The financial burden on Heel Inc., however, was substantial.

Let me read to you from between the lines.  A few years ago, a class action was filed against Boiron, a French company and the world's largest manufacturer of homeopathic remedies, allegeing that the company's sale of the homeopathic remedy "Coldcalm" was fraudulent.  Boiron argued that because the FDA had exclusive jurisdiction over determining the safety and effectiveness of these remedies, the plaintiffs' appropriate avenue of redress was with the FDA. The court issued a ruling that found not only that the fraud action could proceed, but that the FDA had relinquished control of homeopathic product safety and effectivenss to a private agency run by homeopaths.  This, plus what I perceive to be a damning round of discovery convincing the remedy manufacturers that, indeed, they could not successfully defend these suits, led all of the fraud actions filed since then to be settled. Of course, that is speculation on my part.  Officially, no one knows the reasons for settlement and businesses do settle to avoid the cost of litigation even where they think they could win.  Whatever the reasons, apparently all homeopathic remedy manufacturers sued since then have decided, unanimously, that these reasons are compelling. 

According to the Top Class Actions website, a class action against Heel was recently settled for one million dollars. The list of remedies included in the settlement was long.  (You can access it here.)

But fraud abhors a vacuum. Another company, MediNatura, has agreed to purchase Heel's stock.  According to a press release

We remain committed to serving the needs of our practitioners, retailers and the many people that rely on these medicines, while providing outstanding customer service throughout this transition, said Jocelyn Levesque, MediNatura's vice president of sales, and director of sales for Heel Inc.

How very thoughtful!

Best I can tell from information contained on MediNatura's website and the PR release, including pictures of the new products, the difference between the old Heel homeopathic remedies and the new MediNatura homeopathic remedies are about the same as the difference between Jocelyn's position at MedNatura and Heel: basically, nothing except packaging. 

This is perhaps good news only for the plaintiffs' attorneys, who will have a new deep pocket to fund settlements in a new round of class actions based on fraud.  Lock and load boys!

Points of Interest: 06/02/2014
Evaluating Fiction As If It Were Reality