150 Years of American Pharmacy: 'The narcotic evil'

January 22, 2007

In a Jan. 14, 1914, editorial, the editors of Druggist Circular, the precursor of Drug Topics, made their position quite clear on the pending Harrison Narcotic Act. "Perhaps the narcotic evil has been the most absorbing single topic among druggists," the editors insisted. "Inaction [on the bill] was a disappointment to the drug trade, which ... has agreed upon the terms." The magazine need not have worried. The act, which aimed to regulate and control the distribution of opium- and cocaine-derived medications, passed later in 1914 and augured a new era for pharmacies of government monitoring and restrictions on certain classes of medications.

Editor's note: Throughout 2007, this column, which takes a look at some of the most important moments in the history of pharmacy, will appear in each issue as part of our sesquicentennial celebration. Tied with this column is a pharmacy history contest, which we are urging all readers to participate in. Monthly questions based on this column will be posted on the Drug Topics anniversary microsite. Contestants are eligible to win a Visa gift card of $250. For details about the contest, go to http://www.drugtopics.com/drugtopics/form/formDetail.jsp?formId=395300

In a Jan. 14, 1914, editorial, the editors of Druggist Circular, the precursor of Drug Topics, made their position quite clear on the pending Harrison Narcotic Act. "Perhaps the narcotic evil has been the most absorbing single topic among druggists," the editors insisted. "Inaction [on the bill] was a disappointment to the drug trade, which ... has agreed upon the terms." The magazine need not have worried. The act, which aimed to regulate and control the distribution of opium- and cocaine-derived medications, passed later in 1914 and augured a new era for pharmacies of government monitoring and restrictions on certain classes of medications.

It was not always this way. In 1886 the magazine ran 35 articles featuring uses of cocaine. In fact, well into the 20th century a broad range of narcotics was widely available at pharmacies. As early as 1901, the American Pharmaceutical Association commissioned a committee to investigate addictive medications available at pharmacies. According to historian Glenn Sonnedecker, the committee was "appalled" by what it found. Numerous states passed laws, but increasingly pharmacists looked to the federal government for oversight and uniform enforcement.