The Pure Food And Drug Act Of 1906

1732 words - 7 pages

In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act, that was years in the making was finally passed under President Roosevelt. This law reflected a sea change in medicine-- an unprecedented wave of regulations. No longer could drug companies have a secret formula and hide potentially toxic substances such as heroin under their patent. The law required drug companies to specify the ingredients of medications on the label. It also regulated the purity and dosage of substances. Not by mere coincidence was the law passed only about five years after Bayer, a German based drug company began selling the morphine derivative, heroin. Thought to be a safe, non-habit forming alternative to morphine, heroin quickly became the “cure-all drug” that was used to treat anything from coughs to restlessness. Yet, just as quickly as it became a household staple, many began to question the innocence of the substance. While the 1906 law had inherent weaknesses, it signaled the beginning of the end for “cure-all” drugs, such as opiate-filled “soothing syrups” that were used for infants. By tracing and evaluating various reports by doctors and investigative journalists on the medical use of heroin, it is clear that the desire for this legislative measure developed from an offshoot in the medical community-- a transformation that took doctors out from behind the curtain, and brought the public into a new era of awareness.
To understand the foundation of this transformation in medicine it is important to look at the change in medical reports by doctors. Comparing Dr. Charles Lang’s to Dr. John Quackenbos’ assessment of heroin one can see the shift from casual observation and opinions to systematic evaluation during the turn of the 20th century. Lang’s medical evaluation of heroin exemplifies the lack of skepticism and strategic science-based analysis in medicine. Lang published his findings only a year after Bayer began distributing the drug in 1898. Lang began by noting that many in the medical community were still unaware of the drug’s existence. However, to those who were aware of the innovative drug, it held immense promise, in that it was the solution to doctor-induced morphine addiction. Morphine and heroin are both opiates and useful in suppressing cough and fever. However, Lang claimed that heroin was the harmless alternative. Lang admitted that while he had not witnessed the long-term effects of heroin, he was “morally certain that they [would] be satisfactory.” Additionally, Lang concluded that heroin was “absolutely devoid of toxicity,” --an idea that would have little merit in today’s medicine. There was a tendency among doctors to speculate on the nature of a drug without substantial research, and haphazardly dispense potentially toxic drugs. This weakness is apparent in Lang’s work.
Dr. John Quackenbos revealed a more modern approach to medicine in a 1908 medical textbook. He showed a great amount of skepticism before reaching the conclusion that heroin is...

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