FTC Forces Homeopathic Drug Makers to Tell the Truth

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 18, 2016 | Last updated on April 18, 2023

While there are countless individuals who swear by the benefits of homeopathic medicines, and there are even doctors who will endorse them, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is threatening nearly 700 marketing companies with serious penalties if they're not careful in their advertising. The FTC recently put hundreds of advertisers on notice that they cannot deceive customers buying homeopathic remedies. The agency sent out 670 notices of penalty offenses reminding agencies that homeopathic drugs face the same standards as any other products that make a claim about their safety or efficacy. This means that for homeopathic drugs and over-the-counter remedies that claim to have certain effects or promise to be safe, a company is required to back up those claims with reliable scientific evidence.

What FTC Policy Means for Homeopathic Remedy Sellers

If a homeopathic drug maker does not have the required substantiating proof for their claims, the FTC provided two specific disclaimers that both should be included on the label as a means of consumer protection:
  1. There is no scientific evidence that this product works.
  2. The product's claims are based only on the theories of homeopathy (“alternative medicine") from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.
The FTC made big changes to its policies on homeopathic drugs in 2016, spurred by a wave of poisonings related to a homeopathic ointment intended for teething babies. The ointment contained high levels of belladonna, a substance also known as deadly nightshade (which, in case you're wondering, is, in fact, deadly).

Homeopathic Teething Gel Killed 10 and Injured 400

Homeopathic drugs are generally made by taking substances that produce illnesses or side effects, then diluting those substances until the harmfulness is diluted to the point of being harmless, then the diluted mixture is ingested. In the baby teething gel drug, however, the mixture was not properly diluted, such that the potencies of the deadly active ingredient, nightshade, was still deadly.

Advertising Agencies On Their Toes

The notices sent out by the FTC act as a warning that a company has done something the agency has determined to be unfair or deceptive. If deceptive advertising continues, these companies could face a fine of more than $50,000 per violation. Homeopathic drug makers have pushed back on the FTC's policies, calling them "arbitrary and capricious." However, the policy and enforcement arguably make the industry more transparent and accountable. If you've used a homeopathic remedy and have concerns about its safety or efficacy, a product liability attorney may be able to help.

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