On November 15, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission released a new policy statement announcing how the agency will examine over-the-counter (“OTC”) homeopathic drugs going forward. The policy statement explains that the FTC will hold OTC homeopathic products to the same standards as non-homeopathic drugs making similar wellness claims in terms of efficacy and safety.

The policy statement was borne out of an FTC workshop held last year, which examined how OTC homeopathic drugs are marketed to consumers. In addition to releasing this policy statement, the FTC also released its staff report on the workshop, which summarizes the panels from the workshop and public comments received, and contains consumer research commissioned by the FTC relating to OTC homeopathic drugs.

Homeopathy involves treating the symptom of a disease with minute doses of substances that would produce similar symptoms in a healthy person. According to the FTC’s policy statement, while homeopathy is not recognized by most modern medical experts as an effective way to treat disease, it has many adherents.

The FTC will require marketers of homeopathic products to possess scientific substantiation of their claims. The FTC states that for most homeopathic remedies there currently exist no valid studies supporting their therapeutic effects, and most claims for homeopathic products are likely misleading. However, in seeming tension with longstanding FTC guidance that a disclosure can clarify, but cannot contradict, a claim, the FTC indicated that an ad might not be deceptive if the marketer hems in its efficacy claims and clearly communicates that:

  • there is no scientific evidence that the homeopathic product works; and
  • the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

The FTC intends to take a closer look at homeopathic marketing claims to make sure that ads do not convey more science than a marketer has.