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Although it was sold for many years as a drug for colds, Zicam Cold Remedy was never tested by federal regulators for safety like many other drugs. Because the drug is considered a “homeopathic remedy,” categorized as a highly diluted drug made from natural ingredients, they can legally be sold without any checks for safety, effectiveness, or even the right ingredients by the federal government. This was perfectly legal until consumers began losing their sense of smell.

Many scientists and health care professionals regard these homeopathic remedies as modern day snake oil, ineffective but mostly harmless because the substances in them are in such small amounts. They are similar to dietary supplements, which use many of the same natural ingredients and are also not tested for safety or benefit. The AP’s analysis of side-effect reports filed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, found more than eight hundred homeopathic ingredients were implicated in health problems last year; complaints ranged from vomiting to attempted suicide.

In the case of Zicam, the FDA tied the drug to 130 cases of consumers losing their sense of smell. Because of this, the agency asked Zicam manufacturer Matrixx Initiatives to stop marketing three products that contain zinc gluconate: Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel, Nasal Swabs, and the discontinued Swabs in Kids’ Size. In order for the drugs to be marketed again, the FDA requires they be tested for safety and benefit like other conventional drugs.

Are homeopathic remedies like Zicam effective? Many people swear by them, but is it essentially having a “placebo effect” on them? This writer is highly skeptical of these remedies, but, as long as they are essentially “harmless”, it is effectively just a situation of folks’ throwing away good money on these “remedies”. When the harm shifts from merely economic to real health problems, however, then a true harm to society may be occurring. The latter result may be indicative of a systemic problem requiring some form of intervention and oversight. Because of the number of issues that have arisen over the past decade or so with supplements and remedies, it seems as if we may be seeing a systemic problem, compounded by the greed of manufacturers producing and marketing these products.


  1. Gravatar for edwards

    Warning signs about Zicam's potential for physical harm were clear several years ago when the marketer, Matrixx, settled 300 loss-of-sense-of-smell cases with a $12 million settlement. Today Matrixx is claiming as proof of Zicam's safety the fact that it has never lost a suit -- completely overlooking the mass settlement. The domain (web address) currently lists law firms offering to evaluate consumer and investor claims, but the domain is for sale and will likely be used by a single firm to educate consumers/investors and attract plaintiffs for what will likely be a company-killing suit.

  2. Gravatar for Greg Webb

    How do you feel about that, if is should occur? How should Matrixx be held accountable for manufacturing such a product? What about the millions of folks using the product who were unaware of the settlement? Were there warnings about loss of smell on the products?

    Thank you for commenting.


  3. Gravatar for Edwards

    The company should be held responsible if it knew or should have known based on information available to it that its products were harmful. Given the 300 medical injury claims filed against it prior to its 2006 $12 settlement payout, Matrixx had plenty of red flags about likely defects in its products. The FDA acted after vetting 130 claims this year, but the company had another 800 claims it had not revealed to the FDA. Matrixx was operating in a grey area of selling OTC products that are not routinely regulated by the government, leaving consumers to trust the company to offer only safe products. It's right for the FDA to have stepped in. The question is, should the FDA have acted sooner, which would require imosing new regulatory supervision of this OTC industry.

  4. Gravatar for Greg Webb

    You nailed it. I could not agree more with you, and I think the FDA should have acted much sooner. Also, I think the reason the FDA did not act sooner was because, at least in part, of the political environment at the time.

    Greg Webb

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