Margaret A.WinkerMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Interim CoeditorIndividualAuthor
To the Editor: Notwithstanding the
conclusions by Dr Studdert and colleagues,1 the following 2
cases should be a source of concern to physicians who plan to use
herbal and homeopathic remedies.
In Meza v Southern California Physicians Insurers
Exchange,2 an osteopathic physician injected tea-tree
oil, an herbal salve, into a wart on the plaintiff's finger. The tip
of the finger subsequently had to be amputated. A lawsuit commenced,
but the insurance company refused to cover the damages of the
physician's care, stating that its policy contained a clause excluding
coverage from the use of any drug not approved by the Food and Drug
Administration. The physician argued that it was not a drug, since the
manufacturers and its distributors made no claim as to its therapeutic
effects. The insurance company's decision was appealed, but the lower
court agreed with the carrier regarding the legality of the clause. The
court found a definition of a drug based on its usage in the US Food,
Drug and Cosmetic Act, as well as in a dictionary. The Appellate Court
upheld the lower court's verdict. The ramifications of this decision
indicate that a "drug" is defined by a physician's intent rather
than the properties of the substance itself whether or not it is called
an herb, supplement, or the like.
Weintraub MI. Legal Implications of Practicing Alternative Medicine. JAMA. 1999;281(18):1698–1699. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-281-18-jac90004
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