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The New York Times February 13, 1913



New Chief of Bureau of Chemistry Says He is Determined to Drive Out Worthless Nostrums


Asks Newspapers to Help by Refusing, As Some Already Do, to Print Fake Drug Advertisements

Dr. Carl L. Alsberg, successor to Dr. Harvey W. Wiley as chief of the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture at Washington, made his first public statement of policy last night at the Waldorf-Astoria. He said he had embarked upon a stubborn campaign against fraudulent patent medicines and habit-forming drugs.

"I regard it," he said, "as the most important immediate duty of the bureau to curb a traffic between the States in worthless nostrums."

The speech was made by Dr. Alsberg before the assembled members of the National Association of the Manufacturers of Medicinal Products, and he appealed to the men before him for co-operation in the work of the Bureau of Chemistry.

"While the efforts of the Department of Agriculture in so far as the control of the food products over which it has jurisdiction is concerned have been attended with considerable success," he said, "this has been true to a less degree with drugs and medicines."

Loopholes, unforeseen at first, had made enforcement of the law difficult, Dr. Alsberg said, although something had been done through the power of the Treasury Department to bar the importation of crude drugs and medicinal preparations and also those patent medicines where the labels made false or misleading claims as to curative power.

"They do incalculable harm to the misguided sick, who grasp at the false hopes they hold out," the speaker continued. "The Secretary of the Treasury, on the recommendation of the Department of Agriculture, is excluding all such undesirable aliens. If we must suffer from and be mulcted by the proprietors of nostrums we may now have at least the poor comfort of knowing we suffer injury at the hands of our own people and that we keep in the land the money we pay to boot."

It is far different with the domestic nostrums. Because the domestic manufacturer knows how to advertise, and no existing Federal law can adequately protect the people. The Sherley act will, we hope, enable us to compel the removal of all false and fraudulent matter from the package. It will, we hope, enable us to compel the removal from the package of all therapeutic claims that cannot be substantiated. We are confident that in spite of reams of testimonials these claims will shrink into insignificance in the vast majority of cases. But even if we succeed in this, and we shall leave no stone unturned, the beneficial effect will be more apparent than real. The Sherley act is at best only a partial protection. It gives the Department of Agriculture power to regulate the labels of these nostrums, but not their advertising. This has to some degree been controlled through the Post Office Department. As long as our press continues to print the advertisements of nostrums ways and means will be found to hawk them about the country. Several such ingenious schemes have already been put into practice.

"Gloomy as the outlook seems, there is yet a ray of hope. It is the attitude of a small but powerful portion of the press itself, which has voluntarily scoured its advertising columns till they contain only clean honest matter. The movement is spreading. Let us hope that its progress will be so rapid that it will make legislative control of advertising unnecessary."

Dr. Alsberg then said he was determined to use "every lawful means at the command of the Bureau of Chemistry" to stamp out the circulation of habit-forming drugs such as opium and cocaine. He pointed out that one third of the cocaine imported was used for legitimate therapeutic purposes as a warrant for drastic official action, and he put the primary responsibility up to the Federal Government, as most of the drugs are imported.

"It is feasible if the State and Federal Governments co-operate to keep an accurate record of the fate of all of each consignment imported through the wholesaler and jobber down to the pharmacist, physician, dentist, and veterinarian," he said. "If the Federal Government does its share, State officials by an examination of Federal records will be able to learn what quantities of narcotics are coming into the State and to whom they are consigned. Each State will then be in a position to control these scourges of our people. If it fails to do so, it must shoulder the responsibility.

"The Federal Government can bring this about by virtue of either its taxing power or by virtue of its control over inter-State and foreign commerce. The Harrison bill now pending before Congress is based on the taxing power, proposing, as it does, that each handler of these drugs must be licensed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. To me it seems a step in the right direction. should it fail to pass or should it prove ineffective it is certain to result in far more drastic measures. This evil must be stamped out."