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It's taken a long while, but homeopathy has finally arrived.

NEW YORK -- For most of the last 200 years health care professionals have been debating whether homeopathy offers a valid medical alternative or something akin to voodoo.

Despite the passionate arguments made for and against homeopathic remedies, the segment has helped a handful of drug chains set themselves apart from the pack.

And, some say, it may play a key role in the pharmacy of the future.

As more Americans seek ways to take greater control of their health care, complementary and alternative remedies are becoming an increasingly important part of that quest.

Stores that offer shoppers these alternatives as well as the more traditional over-the-counter and prescription medicines will be the ones that succeed in coming years, those who watch the industry say.

"These are the pharmacies that are going to be on the front lines," Cindy Tsourounis, director of the Pharmacy School Drug Information Center at the University of California at San Francisco, recently told the Chicago Tribune.

While countless drug stores, supermarkets and discounters have incorporated the most visible homeopathic remedies into related categories three pharmacy chains--Boulder, Colo.-based Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, Wadsworth, Ohio-based Ritzman Pharmacies and Berkeley, Calif.-based Elephant Pharmacy--have traditionally been held up as the drug stores that are leading the way in homeopathy.

That may be on the verge of changing soon as mounting evidence emerges that homeopathy offers patients a viable alternative to traditional medicine and drug therapy and more chains start to add the category to their merchandise mix.

"At the level of the chain drug store industry we are no longer the red-haired skinny cousin," Hyland's Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Jay Bomeman says about the way retailers see the suppliers of homeopathic products. "We're just someone producing high-quality O-T-C products."

Even with retailers' shifting attitudes, it is still Pharmaca, Ritzman and Elephant that are setting the pace.

Ritzman, for example, devotes between 4 and 8 feet to the category and cross-merchandises homeopathic remedies in several other categories. All told, executives at the eight-store chain say, a typical Ritzman store carries more than 200 SKUs of homeopathic products.

For its part, Elephant, which currently operates only a single store in Berkeley but plans to add at least two more outlets in the San Francisco Bay area this year, has a homeopath on staff.

Unlike most drug stores that have delved into homeopathy, Elephant carries single remedies in a variety of potencies.

For the most part, suppliers of homeopathic remedies point out, drug chains that offer a homeopathy section have opted to stock combination remedies targeted at specific conditions.

For example, it is not uncommon to find Hyland's teething gel, earache drops or indigestion tablets or Boiron Inc.'s oscillococcinum flu remedy on the shelves of such drug chains as CVS Corp., Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreen Co.

Some of these larger chains are even starting to incorporate separate homeopathy sections in their stores. Rite Aid, for instance, offers an extensive selection of homeopathic products in stores that have GNC sections.

While more drug chains have been slowly expanding their homeopathic selection, a few have taken the category to a completely different level.

At Elephant the approach goes much further than most other drug chains, with the store's resident homeopath providing patients with single remedies for a variety of chronic illnesses and conditions the same way a classically trained pharmacist would dispense prescription drugs for those ailments.

Despite the efforts that these chains are making, those in the industry admit that getting Americans to embrace homeopathy is an uphill battle. The use of homeopathic remedies in the United States, they say, may never reach the level it has in Western Europe and other parts of the world where an estimated 300 million people rely on homeopathy for their primary medical care.

Some note that one of the main reasons behind Americans' reluctance to turn to homeopathic remedies over the years has been the disdain the American Medical Society has for the field.

That skepticism is slowly eroding, and as more research on homeopathic products points to their effectiveness, proponents of alternative medicine say more retailers will find shelf space for homeopathic products.

"In the area of clinical research there have been probably 100 to 120 randomized placebo controlled trials, and the majority of them are not really well done," explains Dr. Wayne Jonas, a former director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health and a supporter of homeopathic medicine.

"There is a minority--20 to 30 of them--that meet most of the standards of current modern medical research," he notes. "Those studies do seem to indicate that homeopathic remedies have an effect better than a placebo. But there haven't been enough repetitions of whether homeopathy works in particular conditions, or whether a particular remedy works."

Still, others say, despite the lack of studies the anecdotal evidence of homeopathic remedies' success is overwhelming. The products work, they note, and consumers continue to purchase them.

"A drug chain is not going to be successful with a selection of products that don't work," Hyland's Borneman says. "The business is too competitive to have sitting on their shelves products that don't work and are not going to move."
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Title Annotation:Homeopathy
Author:Monks, Richard
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 14, 2005
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