A Successful sCAM: Americans Spent $33.9 Billion On Alternative Medicine Last Year

Yes, I’m back on complimentary and alternative medicine (colloquially referred to as sCAM) again. I may be in danger of becoming a one trick pony. I need to find a wider variety of topics to get angry about. There’s always tomorrow.

Americans spent almost $34 billion out of pocket on alternative health goods and services last year. That’s billion. With a B. These are products and treatment with zero proof of efficacy. Americans essentially spent $34 billion on magic in an attempt to cure real medical problems. Often, when the problem being treated is relatively trivial, these individuals are relieved of little more than their money. Other times, belief in these products prevents the administration of timely medical care. Consequences can be significant.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has used taxpayer dollars to study the effectiveness of alternative treatments for more than a decade. During that time period (and before), there have been no valid scientific studies performed that show any of these treatments produce any real effect. Echinacea? Nope. Acupuncture? Another miss. Gingko biloba? A pattern seems to be emerging. Most infuriating is the money thrown away studying the illogical and downright absurd (see: homeopathy and therapeutic touch among others).

Not everyone in this country can be expected to possess extensive knowledge about the process of medical research and practice. Nor should they have to. Medicine should not be a ‘buyer beware’ enterprise. Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to castigate and ridicule the consumers of CAM. My hostility is focused on bigger fish. Politicians like Senator Tom Harkin grant legitimacy to these practices by forcing the establishment of the Office of Alternative Medicine (the precursor to the NCCAM). Degenerates like Kevin Trudeau have made billions by preying on the sick and frightened. Naive and/or incompetent state medical boards license acupuncturists, homeopaths, chiropractors, and other practitioners of scientifically discredited treatments. It’s a very real and widespread problem, and I will continue to fight it, one trick pony or not.

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