Natural – safe – smart

Sure enough, it’s not just Target. I just checked my local Bartell’s, which is a big drugstore chain around here. I found the asthma section, which had only three items, two apparently medical and one also apparently medical unless you were actually looking for the homeopathic version. This is what it looks like:

Safecare AsthmaCare

If you’re not specifically looking for homeopathic bullshit, you’re likely to think that’s actual medicine for asthma. I wasn’t sure which it was at first. The banner saying “natural-safe-smart” and the bit about “no known negative side effects” seemed likely, but I had to turn it over to confirm that it’s “homeopathic.” People who don’t know better WILL THINK IT’S MEDICINE.

It’s horrifying.

It does include a warning, but then so does the version that apparently does contain some medicine. The warning doesn’t include saying for instance “this stuff doesn’t contain any active ingredient, it’s not medicine, it’s frankly just water.”

If you Google safecare asthmacare, as I just did, you get a bunch of places that sell it, including Walgreen’s and CVS. You can find its page at CVS, where it costs $22.99. (I think it was $16.99 at Bartell’s.) You get its blurbs.

Homeopathic. The smart medicine. For temporary relief of minor asthma symptoms: shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in chest. Natural, safe, smart. No known negative side effects. Not a rescue inhaler. A physician-based company established in 1989. 300 sprays per bottle. Approximately 100 adult doses. Taste-free, purified water base. No known negative side effects. No known negative drug interactions.

It’s fucking fraud, and it could easily kill people who are naïve or desperate enough to buy it thinking it really is medicine, just as it claims it is. This is asthma we’re talking about.

I talked to an employee about it. He said he would talk to his bosses in the pharmacy. (I gather he works in the pharmacy but isn’t himself a pharmacist.) I don’t suppose that will make any difference, but they should at least be made aware.

It’s far from being only Target. I wish it were only Target.


  1. says

    I would say that advertising it as safe is dishonest. It might be said that spraying water into you mouth is a safe thing to do, which is true enough but things are not abstractly safe or dangerous in themselves; they are safe or dangerous to use as a certain type of object. It is not safe to use a water spray as a medicine to treat asthma.

  2. AnotherAnonymouse says

    The scary thing is its affordability. My company hired a dishonest HR idiot, and under her incompetence, our health insurance premiums skyrocketed from $400/month to $1,000/month, and once-affordable prescriptions are now so expensive that we might as well not have insurance at all. Had I been given any notice that our insurance was going to change, I would have sought out the ACA (we were told on 5 January via email that our previous plan was defunct on 31 December, and our new plan didn’t kick in until TODAY, the 17th). I can see how someone in this position who doesn’t understand that homeopathy is useless would spring for the homeopathic medicine for under $30, instead of paying $300 for actual medicine.

  3. says

    I certainly think it’s dishonest, hence the “fucking fraud.” It just disgusts me. It’s all so artful. It looks like medicine and it’s shelved next to medicine. IT IS DECEPTIVE.

  4. says

    @ 3 – really! The two items next to it on the shelf are much more expensive – because they’re real medicine for real inhalers. And it is so grotesquely unobvious that the cheap stuff is not anything.

  5. TinAge says

    A few years ago, I was browsing the homeopathic crap section of Thrifty’s Foods, and the pharmacist came up to me and started telling me how wonderful it is, how it has no side effects, etc. I told her that it had no effects whatsoever, because there was nothing in it but water/sugar (I forget if I was looking at pills or solution).

    I may have also used profanity.

  6. stripeycat says

    No known negative side effects.

    This is simply untrue. (Well, I doubt this particular preparation has been tested, so…) We know placebo treatment of asthma symptoms is harmful. Patients feel better, but don’t show improved lung function or blood oxygenation. This encourages them to a) carry out activities they may not be fit to do, such as driving or physical exertion, and b) delay seeking emergency care during a severe attack. Placebo treatments for asthma increase the risk of death.

    Disclaimer/COI: my mother’s brother died before effective treatments were available (possibly of ephedrine OD, certainly of heart failure); my mother spent years of her childhood institutionalised in a lung hospital, which messed her up a bit; my brother spent significant chunks of our childhood in and out of hospital. I am not cool or dispassionate about anything that increases the risk of asthma death and suffering.

  7. sacharissa says

    Also, most people don’t actually know what homeopathy actually is. It’s a nice scientific sounding word. I find that people are astounded when I tell them what’s involved. Most people think that it’s a type of herbal medicine. I was amazed when I found out.

  8. rnilsson says

    @6 TinAge: Are you sure she spelled it pharmacist, not farm-assist? That would at least explain the BS.

  9. Rich Roberts says

    Here is something else that should be pointed out about homeopathic medicines and treatments. Don’t just assume if a product is labeled “homeopathic” that it’s just water and an extremely small amount of active ingredient. I want to call your attention to Tag Away – a product that is supposed to remove skin tags. You may have seen it advertised on T.V. The vast majority of the reviewers on Amazon say it doesn’t work. (No surprise there.) But many of the reviewers also complained that it smelled horrible. It makes you wonder what is really in that stuff.

  10. latsot says

    It’s far from being only Target. I wish it were only Target.

    Yes. Here in the UK, maybe 10 years ago, I saw various items and ‘medicines’ including homeopathy and magic rings that supposedly cured various ailments for sale in Boots. For those of you not in the UK, Boots is a drugstore but one with an impeccable pedigree, having been established in (IIRC) 1849 and being the de facto standard pharmacist and drug store ever since. When I was growing up in the 70s, Boots was described as a ‘chemist’ (I think it still is) and the shops used to have exotically-shaped flasks full of coloured liquid in the window, stupid but awesome. Anyway, the point is that Boots is an almost universally trusted chain. It’s a ‘proper’ pharmacy. An undeniably established piece of the establishment. It even had the slogan “Trust Boots” for years.

    And here it was selling quackery. I was enraged and wrote in fury to about 20 people at Boots who seemed likely to either have some influence over products or actually care about not selling pretend medicine. It turned out that none of these people cared at all. Most didn’t reply. Those who did sent predictable form letters ‘explaining’ that there is a demand for stupid made up shit and who are they not to exploit vulnerable people? The interesting part was that they were all different form letters, although I’ve never quite worked out what to make of that. Each department had its own form letter to defend selling quack medicine? Wow.

    I also wrote to the Chief Skeptic of that time, James Randi, who was equally outraged and wrote about it on his site. Other people picked that up and it also turned out that many more were writing about it already. That brief flurry of activity might have been responsible for the removal of – at least – the magic rings from the Boots product range and seemed to spark a commitment to better labeling of products, although I’m not convinced that ever happened in practice. It was a very minor and unsatisfying victory but I guess a slight improvement was made.

    A few years later (2009-2010-ish) the issue fired up again. This time, the protesters were better organised. They – hilariously – replaced the little cards you get describing products on Boots shelves with ones that actually described them and they also used that lovably showbiz Randi tactic of staging mass overdoses of homeopathic sleeping pills outside Boots stores. It attracted headlines for a few days and was certainly spectacularly successful in raising awareness in a way my generation of protesters was not.

    But despite that, Boots is still selling not-medicines alongside medicines and it is a fucking disgrace. I don’t go into Boots stores very often but I think in general they are slightly better than they were at distinguishing between medicine for something and not-medicine for the same thing. For example, I’d be….slightly….surprised if you found two packets next to each other, one markedly cheaper, claiming to do the same thing but with one of them being bullshit. Instead, you’ll find excitingly contoured shelving which leads you from the real to the fake almost but not quite seamlessly. Fuck you, Boots, don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to there.

    The main thing both my generation of not very effective protester and the later and better wave achieved was to make Boots more savvy about marketing bullshit.

    Which means it’s time for a third wave.

  11. latsot says

    Rich: people making homeopathic ‘products’ have not always been very careful about using clean water or sterile processes. The more optimistic explanation is that they put something in to smell bad because medicine is supposed to, which I think is close to the point you were making.

    But here is the actual problem, I think. Who do you imagine makes all these homeopathic ‘remedies’?

    It’s the big pharmas, for the most part. They are manufacturing and selling shit they know doesn’t work. This isn’t conspiracy theory stuff, just look at the packets.


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