Scots herbal remedy store faces closure over new EU laws

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NEW EU laws are threatening one of Scotland’s oldest herbal remedy firms.

Napiers, which has been trading for 150 yrears, has gone into provisional liquidation due to a new European regulation on herbal treatments.

The company which has stores in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has treated tens of thousands of patients for various ailments since it was founded in 1860.

Dee Atkinson posing in her Edinburgh Napiers store 

It is one of the largest herbal stores in the UK and offers traditional herbal remedies and therapies as well as scented oils and candles.

But new rules mean traders now have to pay thousands of pounds for a licence to make each product, while many products will only be available with a prescription.

Company owner Dee Atkinson is begging customers to support the store in what could be their last few months.

This week, she called in administrators while the business is reconstructed.

Though an application for liquidation has been made, it is still trading and will continue to deliver medicine to customers and process prescriptions.

Ms Atkinson was forced to sell her own home to support the business after their Stockbridge store in Edinburgh closed.

A spokesman for the company, Kenris MacLeod, said changes in the law and poor sales have forced them to make the decision.

Ms MacLeod said: “We really need people to buy local and to support this local business.

“We’re determined to see another 150 years of herbal medicine inEdinburghand our priority is to our patients.”

Regulations 

The regulations were brought in from April last year.

An exception was made however that all products on the shelves were allowed to remain on sale until they reached their expiration date.

Products like Echinacea, St John’s Wort and valerian will all be restricted under the strict new laws.

Explaining the new regulations, the European Union voiced concerns over the powerful effects of some remedies and the reaction they can have when taken with conventional drugs.

Alasdair Baijal, a lawyer for BBM Solicitors, representing Napiers, said: “Napiers themselves have applied to the court for liquidation. The business is not necessarily unviable but its current structure is.

“The administrators will be working to restructure the business to allow it to continue to trade.”

Napier also run clinics and offer acupuncture, hypnotherapy and counselling as well as other services.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Fantastically good news – although I’m pretty sure they aren’t allowed to call these magic fairy potions “medicine” are they?

    • Napiers has been supplying highly effective herbal remedies for well over a century. Just one small example: Napiers’ echinacea angustifolia is far more effective than tamiflu. Ironically, in Germany, where this EU legislation comes from, herbalism is mainstream.

      This is a tragedy for the millions of users of herbal remedies in Scotland and the rest of the UK who are having their right to use their medicines of choice withdrawn .

  2. Some of them are “magic potions”, homeopathic remedies for example. Others, on the other hand (including Napier’s core business) have very real pharmacological effects. A lot of herbal remedies can easily be shown to “work”, the problem is that retailers haven’t had to abide by the same regulations regarding indications, side effects, drug interactions and so on, and a good few of them can be downright dangerous if taken without the proper precautions. I’m a complete disbeliever when it comes to many forms of CAM, but real herbal remedies (as opposed to the “quack” forms such as homeopathy) require the same regulation as “real” medicines in my mind.

    • Well Geoff, toy are welcome to your belief and belief it undoubtedly is. Homoeopathy has nothing to do with ‘magic’ potions.

      Unlike you I prefer to back up my experience with scientific research. The Swiss Government study, published in English as ‘Homeopathy in Healthcare: Effectiveness, Appropriateness, Safety, Costs’ is the largest meta study of homoeopathy and is available from Amazon. It criticised the Shann meta study trotted out by homoeopathy’s critics. It concluded,

      ‘that the individual CAM interventions, especially homeopathy, were effective, under Swiss conditions were safe and, as far as could be judged from the trial situation, were cost effective.’

      • This Swiss “study” has no scientific value. The conclusions were not drawn from gold standard trials (double blind tests) but from subjective statements made by homeopaths and their customers.

        That’s akin to asking bakers and their clients whether they believe bread is a good product. The “study” was heavily criticized in Switzerland (and abroad) for its severe methodological flaws and for the heavy influence lobbyists of the CAM industry had on the agenda setting and the selection of co-authors.

        • It is always the same: A new piece of research appears that supports homoeopathy and you and your friends tell us it has no value. I was struck by the comments on this subject of Professor Brian Josephson, UK Nobel prizewinner for physics.

          Scientists are perfectly free to state that homoeropathy doesn’t work- provided they accept that when they say it they are expressing opinions rather than being scientific.

          Nor can I ignore the comments by another Nobel prizewinner, Luc Montaigner, who has declared that he has had to work in China because of the increasing intolerance of sceintists in the west. Myself, I feel there is a direct correlation between that growing intolerance and the way that free sceintific investigation has been by subverted at our universities by the profit motive and the need to satisfy the ains of those corportaions who increasingly pay the piper nowadays.

          The great irony for me is that many of those who choose to become homoeopaths do so from a sceintific background. Indeed, homoeopathy is scientific by virtue of its methodology and because we are are sceintific, we are well aware of the contradictions by virtue of our remedies seeming ability to act beyond the limits of Avogadro. We know though that to say, ‘it cannot work’ is the wrong approach. The true sceintist must say, ‘because it seems to contradict Avogadro we must find the mechanism by which it does so.’

          I can accept that some people wish to denigrate herbalism or homoeopathy, but what really distresses me is the number of people who have chosen to use this platform in order to attack people’s freedom to choose the medical system they prefer.

          Napiers have been supplying highly effective herbal remedies for a century and a half and by so doing have clearly been providing a highly effective function. Napiers are in danger of closing and at a time when more and more people are making the alternatives their medical treatment of choice. At the very time people are questioning what their GPs have on offer, ill conceived EC legislation forces firms such as Napiers into a position of threatened closure.

          Surely one would be right to wonder at the behind the scenes machinations at such an ill conceived and essentially anti democratic piece of legislation.

        • Of course the Swiss study is not based on Randomised Double Controlled Tests, the ‘gold standard’ as you say. That is, the gold standard science that allows Big Pharma to give us drugs that give us disease, and kill us. Thank goodness the Swiss went further than this, and found out that homeopathy actually works when people use it. This is the real ‘gold standard’. I was ill; I used Homeopathy; I got better.

        • ‘Heavy influence of the CAM industry’??? It’s hard to consider it heavy, comparing it to the scale of pharmaceutical industry lobbing.

  3. Actually, I reckon it’s really disappointing news.

    As Geoff Robbins correctly points out, herbal remedies have very real pharmacological impact, and have been around, because of businesses like Napier’s, for a long long time. Why would a herb not be biologically effective? It’s no different than most of the food we eat, except that some herbs have particular compounds that have particular impact. The only real reason that they’re being driven off the market, is because various pharmaceutical companies have noticed the impact potential of herbalists on their own bottom line. That herbs could come under such pressure when most of the same pharmaceutical companies have delivered products derived from herbs and plants seems ridiculous.

    However, to refer to homoeopathy as “quack” is bizarre. Just because there are things which have an impact that we don’t understand, and that we perhaps don’t understand the modus operandi, does not mean that they do not work. We shouldn’t allow our own limited thinking to prevent others who have expanded theirs, to limit the utilisation of such medications as homoeopathy. It’s through application by enquiring people that we will come to understand more about it, and deliver more benefit from it and for everybody. Narrow minds rarely get anywhere. Those who are disbelievers need to study the widespread use in the animal kingdom, and note the impact but homoeopathy can have on large animals. And, there’s no need to fall for the old chestnut of thinking that the person who administered the remedy was deceived into thinking that that was the reason for the restoration of full health, or that the animal in someway responded to placebo, because when we are talking of huge herds of bovine animals, or in some cases massive flocks of hens etc, there’s nothing placebo about the benefit that they derive, or influential from one person.

    So, I’m sorry to hear this news about Napier’s, and wish Dee Atkinson and all involved the maximum support for her effort to save the company.

  4. This is a terrible blight on the Health Food Industry and am sorry to see yet another one struggling for survival , I am wishing with all my heart that you will survive with strength and determination . I live in Edinburgh for many years and always had great service from people who knew their subject . I totally abhor the destructive way this “evil” EU is using its powers to bring the natural world to it’s knees , these are people with little care for humanity and want to destroy what is good and natural , it’s a total LIE that they want to protect people’s health and they know it. We should be so aware now as to what they are up to but most people are still asleep in the lap of ignorance. It’s all about protecting big Pharma and the millions they are earning from people’s misery, they hate the natural food industry because they know it works. Another huge issue if I can mention here is the one of GM which I really feel people are so mis-informed about . Monsanto are deliberately controlling and collapsing the very nature of existence by genetic manipulation of many many natural items , the biggest one of these is food. GM is nothing to do with protecting the worlds food supplies but it is their intention to destroy what is good and natural ; they are controlling the worlds food supply with their own patent’s which are protected by governments. I myself am not an expert but can see what is happening very clearly and these people have to be stopped NOW , or we will see a world of robotic food which creates so many problems eaten by robotic people with no powers of their own , GM is an absolute nightmare . We have enough land and ( did have enough uncontaminated seed) to stop hunger in the world but no these “evil” corporations lie again and again to make people believe they are protecting our food. We must all awaken now , come out of our complacent slumber and really force these people into a corner where they have to own up to their deceitful ways. We are the MAJORITY and they are the MINORITY , we have the power to take back what belongs to humanity and that is OUR FOOD BEING FREE FROM CONTROL , PLEASE PLEASE WAKE UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, NATURE NEEDS US TO DO THIS AND WE NEED OUR NATURAL WORLD TO SURVIVE.

  5. Herbal medicine has a safe track record for over thousands of years. Just 150 years ago orthodox medicine was blood letting and injecting mercury as cures. In another 150 years nobody will use pharmaceuticals with horrendous side-effects.

    Figures from the US Department of Health & Human Services show that doctors are 9000 times more hazardous to your health than gun owners. Statistics back that up. In the UK, as many people die every month from prescription drugs as were blown up in the World Trade Center in 2001.

      • But generally people don’t talk that way. This is not a sceintific journal! People are expressing opinions ostensively on the threatened closure of Napiers Herbals, a company that I have been happy to use for many years. I deplore Napier’s threatened demise and a call for references will not alter that.

        As for the comment you respond to with your request for references (which I’m sure you’d denigrate if they claimed anything that goes against your cherished beliefs), I cannot give you a reference for this but I’m sure you’ll find one easily enough:

        In the US, iatrogenic disease is the second largest cause of death after heart disease. This rather suggests the true cost of modern pharmaceutical medicine and why, it is at least highly suggestive that companies such a Napiers provide a useful fiunction within society.

        Surely at a time such as this, people should have a right to make an informed choice to move away from pharmaceutical medicine to herbal or homoeopathic medicine or to the many other healing modalities that exist in this world, and which in several cases, perform rather better than ‘conventional’ medicine as currently constituted .

        Now really is not the time for draconion legislation that threatens the very existence of honourable public servants such as Napiers.

  6. John, you are funny! I’m sure you aren’t to pitifully ignorant as to not be aware that the plants used in herbal medicine contain biologically active compounds. These plants have undergone thousands of clinical trials proving their efficacy and extrapolations from such trials provide us in the medical profession useful new knowledge regarding how we might utilise their therapeutic properties. Fairy potions? What a card you are! Have you seen the latest research regarding aspirin? You are, of course, aware that salicylic acid was originally found in plants? And what about some of our new cancer and Alzheimer break throughs? Plants. Stop embarrassing yourself with these flippant comments, educate yourself. The therapeutic actions of the plants which grow around us is a fascinating and thoroughly SCIENTIFICALLY researched field. The EU has enforced these regulations because the medicinal properties of plants is factual…not in the realm of the fairies.

    • Laura, you are correct to state that herbal medicines have therapeutic effects.

      Unfortunately, the problem with the EC legislation is its draconian nature. Although I am unable to speak with confidence on the nature of Scottish law, in English common law anything not expressly forbidden is allowed. A number of plant remedies such as chelidonium had already been forbidden for sale to the general public under English law, but generally speaking those herbs not banned were available for legal purchase by the general public until the advent of the draconian EC legislation of May 2011. I would argue that such an outlook is wise: if it is not proved to be dangerous it is safe.

      Under that ill advised EC legislation, all herbs not expressly allowed are banned. Sadly, the financial burden of proving that each of the many herbs previously legally obtainable in the UK is excessive and this is how venerable businesses such as Napiers have been caught out. They simply cannot afford to prove the safety of the herbs they have customarily sold to the general public. They can still sell them to registered herbal practitioners but they cannot sell them to the general public whom they have so faithfully served.

      This is clearly unjust treatment for a company that has sold most of these herbs for a century and a half and without significant evidence of harm. One cannot help but wonder at the motivations of the individuals and organisations that have called for such legislation.

      As I write this a wry thought has just appeared. One of the most prestigious organisations to report on the effectiveness of medical treatments is called the Cochrane Collaboration. Some time ago they reported that flu vaccination is at best one percent effective. A whole infrastructure is dedicated to seeing that flu vaccination gets maximum coverage in autumn each year, with GP practices at the front line obtaining fulsome bonuses from the government for maximum takeup. Practice nurses tell prospective ‘vulnerable’categories of the risks they face if they fail to take up the latest vaccine, yet the highly reputable Cochrane Collaboration tells us that in 99 out of 100 cases, flu vaccination is ineffective.

      Yet Professor Colquhoun tells us that Echinacea and other herbs bought happily by the general public for well over a century is ineffective. Sounds like special pleading to me!

  7. Perhaps the best source to judge claims is the US National Center for Complementary and Alternive Medicine (NCCAM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health. This is the outfit that has spent over a billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money testing alternative medicines and for all that money has not come up with a single useful treatment. They never link to any sort of critical comment, and are nothing if not biassed towards all things alternative. If they can’t come up with evidence. nobody can. Two useful links to NCCAM are Herbs at a glance, and Health Topics A – Z.

    If you look up any of the herbs mentioned here you will find that there is little or no evidence that any of them works. Even echinacea and valerian have not got much effect, according to NCCAM. Even if they had useful effects, the fact that the dose is not standardised makes herbal medicines potentially dangerous.

    Herbal medicine can be defined, with little exaggeration, as “giving patients an unknown dose of an ill-defined drug, of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety.”

    Far from being over-strict, the regulations imposed on herbal medicines by the EU and the MHRA, are far less strict than are applied to other drugs. They require no evidence at all that the medicine works. How Big Pharma would love such lax regulations. They are required, unlike herbalists, to produce evidence that their product works. The fact that some pharmaceutical companies have cheated by hiding negative evidence is quite disgraceful (I don’t understand why nobody has been jailed for that). But that is a separate question. The fact remains that the regulations still allow herbs to be sold despite the fact that there is little evidence that they work, and only anecdotal evidence that they are safe.

  8. Professor Colquhoun, we all know that you have a particular axe to grind on this subject. I am sure that in your ideal world, the only option available to individuals with a particular health problem would be to seek out a prescription for a drug from their GP, perhaps knowing that in several cases drugs are withdrawn after either turning out ineffective or downright dangerous.

    However, in your response to this article you choose to ignore the fect that Napiers has existed for over 150 years. Frankly, for that prodigious expanse of time, they must have been doing something right and it is clearly wrong that legislation that was probably widely canvassed by you and your ilk should result in the threatened closure of an organisation that clearly people support.

    You are no dount aware that in Germany, herbal treatment is the mainstream, offered by a high proportion of doctors under the German health insurance scheme. In Germany it is widespread and clearly German experiences of herbal treatments must run counter to those suggested by the US research you quote.

    The truth is we can all make research say whatever we wish it to do as in the case of the Shann study trotted out by you and your friends in order to prove homoeopathy doesn’t work. In the UK, thanks in part to your role and that of your friends, pharmaceuticals are the remedy of choice of the mdeical profession. In the US it is very much the same, but many people rightly fear what is on offer when they visit they GP and chose the herbal or the homoeopathic route.

    You also know that their numbers are rising. It is at times such as those that recourse to ill advised EC legislation is sought.

  9. @Kevin Morris
    I notice that you choose to ignore my references to NCCAM. You can accuse me of bias, though I maintain that I merely look at the evidence. But you can hardly accuse NCCAM of bias.

    I’m well aware that Napier’s has been there for a long time. I did my PhD in the old medical school in Teviot Place and passes their shop every day. It seemed like hangover from the 19th Century. It started at a time when medicine could do hardly anything for patients, and it hasn’t changed. Real mediciine has moved on and can works wonders for some conditions, although there is still long way to go for many others.

    It’s always a bit sad to see the passing of an old institution, but times change and I’d prefer 21st century medicine to 19th century myths.

  10. Prof Colquhoun,

    You choose to ignore my comments also. You are an opponent of both homoeopathy and now, by implication you dismiss what Napiers offers as ‘19th century myths’

    You also choose to ignore that conundrum that whereas in the English speaking nations pharmaceutical medicine reigns supreme, in countries like Germany, herbal medicine is mainstream. Germany has produced many studies demonstrating the effictiveness of many herbal remedies. One that comes to mind is the effectiveness of the herb ST John’s Wort for mild to moderate depression, where it performs better than the pharmaceuticals commonly prescribed. Likewise, homoeopaths have a two hundred year record by way of case studies on the effectiveness of the homoeopathic version of the same plant, called in our practice, hypericum, in the treatment of injuries to areas rich in nerves. I won’t bore you with my own experiences because you and your friends will dismiss them as anecdote, but I do assure you that the doctor in casualty was rather more open minded.

    What tends to happen with your friends and yourself is that any study that is dismissive of those medical paradigms you dismiss are lauded, whilst those studies that support herbalism or homoeopathy, or acupuncture or may other medical paradigms that you choose to misbelieve, you criticise, you dismiss as unscientific. At the same time, those who choose homoeopathy and herbalism in preference to pharmaceutical medicine are happy enough. Why choose to deny them what clearly satisfies them?

    In January 1999 I was declared terminally ill with cancer ( renal cell carcinoma in situ) and the fourth option I was offered by my oncologist was ‘do nothing- you might not live as long but your quality of life will be better’ Well, that was my option and I’m still here, and anachronism or not, Napiers Herbals were important to my fight for recovery. So was homoeopathy. In the year of the peak of my fight for recovery, I spent around £6,000. Two of the palliative treatments I was offered would have involved my remaining in intensive care for some time. It is clear that those treatments would have cost the NHS substantially more than the £6,000 I spent, but would have prolonged my life for perhaps eighteen months.

    I understand why you support phamaceutrcal medicine. It has accorded you with status and and probably an adimirable salary and I must accord you the decency of believing what you preach, but I know what pharmaceutical medicine invariably means for the ‘consumer’. Doctors don’t speak of cure nowadays but speak increasingly of ‘symptom control’. In many cases the drug that a patient requires has side effect that are ‘controlled’ by a second drug. In many cases, a third drug is called upon to control the side effects of the second and so on. This is the only answer pharmaceutical medicine generally has. It is brilliant at putting people back together after road accidents but in the treatment of chronic illness it is deplorably bad and the new solutions are always some time in the future

    If pharmaceutical medicine had a wonderful track record, I would perhaps accept that it was all over for the alternatives, but the truth is it hasn’t. In the treatment of many complaints it is lamentably poor and its costs threaten to overtake the gross domestic product of countries such as the United States, whilst iatrogenic disease is now the second largest cause of death after heart disease in the US. Is this really what you want for us all?

    I deplore your response to the service that Napiers offers and I deplore the attempts of yourself and others like you to deny people the right to choose.

  11. Well I’m afraid you haven’t got your facts quite right. St John’s Wort has been found to have similar effectiveness to SSRI antidepressants. But sadly, when negative trials of SSRIs are included (they had, criminally, been supressed by the manufacturer) is has turned out that SSRIs have very little effectiveness for mild/moderate depression. So presumably neither has St John’s Wort.

    You are quite right to say that medicine can’t yet do much about only too many conditions. That isn’t a good reason to resort to equally ineffective alternative medicines. I do wonder, though, if you have your teeth out without a local anaestthetic on the grounds that pharmacology is rubbish.

    I’m not going to argue about homeopathy because it, quite literally contains nothing to argue about. Herbs contain drugs, so they coould work, though the evidence that they actually do is thin. Homeopathy contains nothing.

    Finally, I have no wish to ban herbalism or even homeopathy. I merely think that their proponents should not make claims without good evidence.

    • Well Professor Colquhoun, at least you are consistent in your views on homoeopathy. However, since your statement on the ineffectiveness of St John’s Wort is based upon an assumption, I feel it has no place here. I do return to my assertion that in Germany herbalism is mainstream, and herbal remedies are widely used and found to be effective.

      You choose to ignore over two hundred years’ evidence of homoeopathy’s effectiveness, dismissing it as a mere ‘nothing’. I find it rather sad that you and your friends use Avogadroas irrefutable proof that there is literally nothing in homoeopathy. You will be aware that there are scientists who do accept that there are mechanisms by which homoeopathic remedies diluted and potentised to beyond Avogadro could work. Professor Josephson, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge has stated that scientists are well within their rights to dismiss homoeopathy, provided they accept that they are merely expressing opinions. Meanwhile, another Nobel laureate, Luc Montaigner, a man who has accepted that mechanisms exist that can explain homoeopathy’s action in dilutions beyond Avogadro, has accepted a post in a Chinese University, complaining that there is a growing atmosphere of intolerance in science in the west. Elsewhere in the feedback to the above article I have stated my view that the increasing presence of big business within academia has exacerbated that tendency.

      Of course, if your position amounted merely to your belief that neither homoeopathy nor herbalism works I would merely tell you that you are welcome to your views. However, I am well aware that you are a person of considerable influence; and whilst I welcome your concession that you do not wish to ban either homoeopathy or herbalism, I am certain that the situation that faces alternative treatments here amounts to a campaign of negative publicity orchestrated in order to convince the population and opinion formers that there is either little or no point in seeking such treatments. That, combined where possible with canvassing for legal restrictions that make conducting businesses in such fields increasingly difficult. I am well aware, as are you, of the machinations that led to the closure of the degree course in homoeopathy at the University of Central Lancashire. Nor can I ignore the fact that certain ‘skeptic’ organisations declared the course’s closure a great triumph. Why should they have done that? With all this in mind, assurances about not wishing to ban homoeopathy and medical herbalism are in danger of being seen as inconsistent with events.

      I predict that the story isn’t over for Napiers, nor is it for homoeopathy. The economics of pharmaceuticals doesn’t add up and increasingly, people are becoming restive, because so much of what is on offer in the name of pharmaceuticals, is often dangerous. Despite your less than wholehearted support for herbalism, the demand remains, and the fact that homoeopathy has grown to become the second most widespread medical system in the world (after TCM) without the benefits either of advertising or machinations within the body politic, rather speaks for itself.

  12. Kevin, you are really too kind to the likes of David Colquhoun, who is so well known as anti homeopathy and herbal remedies, and, like others of his ilk, fond of making false assertions about the non-effectiveness of these two natural therapies, and ignoring the evidence to the contrary – whether in the nature of RCTs or the results of clinical trials and empirical evidence. Practitioners of both therapies through the centuries have more than enough case histories of cures to satisfy any reasonable man or woman, and there have been thousands of books written by conventional doctors and experienced lay people documenting them. But one will never satisfy someone who has a closed mind on the subject, and it is a waste of effort to try. Dr Compton Burnett’s little compilation of cases cured, “50 reasons for being a Homeopath”, written over a period of time to a young doctor who was “full of scholastic conceit” proved that over a 100 years ago.

    Colquhoun’s position is clearly also anti choice for any individual who desires to be able to treat him/herself with the herbs and homeopathics which have been available until now. His arguing for new restrictions on these two natural healthcare systems when nothing untoward has happened in practice to justify any restrictions is simply supporting the strategy which the pharmaceutical companies have – we all know it – devised to try and cripple competing healthcare systems. What we need is someone sensible in the present Government who will in a good old-fashioned Henry VIII way say ‘a pox on all who eternally argue for a monopoly in public healthcare, either by lobbying for over-regulation of natural healthcare systems or in any other way; henceforth existing traditional natural healthcare systems and their remedies will unless proven in any specific case to be dangerous be cherished as one of the natural freedoms which every human in this kingdom has a right to access free of any restriction both for himself and for any animal he/she owns’. And if any Brussels authority tries to interfere, they should be told, impolitely, to get knotted, as I am telling the interfering Mr Colqhuhoun.

  13. I hope people can see what is going on in this exchange; there is a group of people, like Professor Colquhoun, who speak for the Big Pharma drug companies. They don’t defend Conventional Medical (ConMed) drugs (they are fairly indefencible), but they attack any medical therapy that the drug companies see as being contrary to their vested interests.

    This is the context of the attack on Napiers, powerful vested interests, and their spokesmen, dedicated to make us all entirely dependent on drug-based medicine. We all have to stand up and fight the Colquhoun’s of this world, and support Patient Choice, and Medical Freedom.

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