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They’re sold near FDA-approved, over-the-counter medications and make claims like “all-natural remedy” and “doctor recommended,” but homeopathic drugs have come under fire since 2011 for false advertising, wasting consumers’ money, and being nothing more than sugar pills.
Homeopathic therapy is based on the concept that a disease or condition can be treated by drugs that produce the same symptoms. The medication supposedly stimulates the immune system to cure the illness.
However, unlike standard cold medications, homeopathic drugs are not regulated by the FDA’s standards. Instead, they fall under the guidelines of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). Because of these exemptions, manufacturers are not required to submit new drug applications and do not have to follow quality production guidelines, including for the expiration date and testing.
As a result, countless companies put products on the market, including at chain pharmacies, with false claims about improving health or common illnesses. Labels further talk about clinical studies, which, even without a warning, are paid for by the manufacturer, are scientifically unsupported, or have manipulated data.
Consumers, often unknowingly, purchase ineffective products, potentially offsetting life-saving medical treatments in the process.
Warnings and Lawsuits
The FDA has issued 12 warnings to marketers of homeopathic drugs over the years, including to Schwabe North America regarding its ingredients and advertising claims. The company had been combining approved homeopathic ingredients with non-approved substances.
The most prominent case in recent memory has been six Boiron class action lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern State of California in 2011. Here, plaintiffs alleged that product Oscillococcinum (Oscillo) was just a placebo, in spite of advertising claims that it can cure seasonal flu and the common cold and that it contains heart and liver of duck.
As well, the lawsuits targeted:
- Similasan for Children’s Earache Relief – The plaintiff alleged its advertising claims violate the California Consumer Remedies Act and the California Unfair Competition Law.
- ColdCalm – The product had been advertised as a cold remedy, when, in fact, it was just a sugar pill.
- Arnicare Arthritis – The plaintiff claimed that this drug marketed to relieve arthritis, muscle aches, wrist, and joint pain was just a combination of sugar and salt.
- Chestal – The lawsuit alleged that this drug, marketed for curing chest congestion and dry cough, was just sugar and salt.
- Quietude – Marketed to help insomnia and other sleep issues, this product was just salt and sugar, the plaintiff alleged.
In response, Boiron had set aside $5 million to compensate consumers, and had to update its labeling and include a disclaimer stating: “FDA does not consider a disclaimer that a product is not intended to treat, cure, prevent or mitigate a disease enough to neutralize disease claims that appear elsewhere.”
In addition to the Boiron class action lawsuit, other homeopathic products have had its claims challenged:
- Max Anti Aging Supplement Human Growth Hormone HGH (hGH), Growth Hormone GHS Max – VesPro Life Sciences
- Deer Antler velvet IGF-1, Pro TA-68 Testosterone Booster – DeerVelvet.net
- Camilia – Boiron
- Mega-T Dietary supplements: Green Tea Extracts – CCA Industries
- ViSwiss – ViSwiss.com
- Hair Essentials – NaturalWellbeing.com
- Dial for Men Magnetic™ – The Dial Company
- Calms Forte, Teething Tablets, Migraine Headache Relief, Colic Tablets – Hyland
Consumers purchased $3.1 billion worth of homeopathic products in 2007 alone. Yet, even with this recent string of lawsuits, companies continue to mislead with statements like “clinically proven,” “doctor-recommended,” and “natural.” These manufacturers putting ineffective, if not potentially harmful, products on shelves must be held accountable.