Walmart faces being sued for selling fake medicines

As the largest retailer in the United States, Walmart is a trustworthy brand to many. Now it is facing legal action from the Center for Inquiry (CFI) on the basis that it sells fake medicines.

If you regularly buy your meds from Walmart, this may come as a bit of a shock. Before you start getting your acetaminophen elsewhere, let’s learn what the fake medicines scandal is all about.

Is Walmart really selling fake medicines?

In a sense, yes. Walmart’s fake medicines are actually homeopathic products. As anyone with a modicum of scientific knowledge agrees, homeopathy is fake medicine.

Of course, this makes the media headlines a little misleading. You’ve possible assumed your over-the-counter meds are fakes, causing you to recoil in horror. Fortunately, items such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and the like are all real.

Why is the CFI suing Walmart?

The CFI is suing Walmart for fake medicines due to the brand’s marketing practices. Rather than placing homeopathic treatments as a standalone product, Walmart is stocking them alongside everyday products. For example, if you search for insomnia treatments, you’ll see homeopathic remedies alongside all the diphenhydramine and melatonin. And, those remedies feature Walmart’s brandings.

For those who aren’t aware that they’re looking at homeopathic remedies, this may produce a maddening experience. Using insomnia as an example again, you’re likely to experience the square root of nothing if you try a homeopathic remedy. In contrast, diphenhydramine is an established non-addictive temporary sleep medication. As well as being a potent antihistamine, of course.

According to the CFI, placing homeopathic remedies with Walmart’s branding is akin to selling fake medicines, as customers may buy them while assuming they’re purchasing pharmaceutical products. At this stage, Walmart may argue that a little due diligence on the consumer’s part is necessary. Reading the packet and reaching for your smartphone will reveal you’re buying snake oil, not meds. In reality, most consumers won’t do that, but they will place their trust in a popular household brand.

Is there really an issue here? It’s only over-the-counter meds!

Absolutely, there is an issue. Failing to address conditions such as temporary insomnia makes life difficult and distressing. Similarly, if you take a homeopathic remedy rather than Ibuprofen following a sports injury, you won’t get the pain relief you expect.

As a big brand that’s owned a pharmaceutical subsidiary for a while, Walmart should know better. While it’s not unfair to give consumers the option of homeopathic remedies, it is unfair to group them alongside treatments that are evidence-based in their efficacy. Not making it absolutely clear that a homeopathic remedy is entirely separate from a pharmaceutical one is unfair.

Further to the above, the FTC has made it clear that stores such as Walmart can sell homeopathic remedies. However, they must make it explicitly clear that there’s no scientific evidence for their use. They must also make it clear that the only ‘evidence’ for such fake medicines stems from the 1700s. By throwing homeopathy treatments in with regular evidence-based meds, Walmart is taking a sneaky approach to muddying that message.

Continue shopping for your usual OTC meds at Walmart. Those things are still real. But, if you see a product you don’t recognize among them, remember that you may be looking at fake medicines.

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About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.