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The New York Times June 16, 1913, Page 8


Doctor Says They Should Be Sold Only on Prescription.

To the Editor of The New York Times:

Since the somewhat dramatic death of a Southern banker from accidental poisoning by a tablet of bichloride of mercury, many suggestions have been offered with the purpose of minimizing the possibility of such accidents. One suggestion is to make all poisonous tablets of a peculiar shape, triangular or octagonal, &c., which will render mistaking them for harmless tablets unlikely. Another suggestion is to have them colored in a peculiar manner; still another is to have each tablet wrapped separately in wax or parchment paper, or enclosed in a gelatine envelope; still another is to have all such poisons dispensed in a peculiar bottle, with a prickly surface, or with a tinkling bell attached to it, &c. All these suggestions are good as far as they go; but they do not go far enough, because they do not go to the root of the evil.

Those who make the suggestions all assume that such poisons as bichloride of mercury (corrosive sublimate) or carbolic acid are necessities in the household, and being necessities, we simply must surround their use with certain safeguards. This is an erroneous idea, and I wish to declare in the most emphatic manner possible that not only are bichloride and carbolic acid not necessities in any household, but there is no excuse for their ever being in any home. We physicians are using fewer and fewer antiseptics, relying more and more on asepsis instead of antisepsis, and the public should be taught the same thing. Where antiseptics are necessary there is no need of having recourse to deadly poisons which injure and destroy the tissues and life itself; we have a large list of harmless antiseptics to choose from. To mention only a few: peroxide of hydrogen, salicylic acid, boric acid, borate of sodium, benzoate of sodium, thymol, the volatile oils. The only way to avoid deaths accidental or deliberate, by those violent poisons is to prohibit their sale absolutely, except in small quantities on a physician's prescription, as is the case in most European countries.

I am not given to sensationalism, but I am convinced that hundreds and hundreds of accidental deaths from bichloride and carbolic acid occur annually which never reach public notice. The death has taken place, the heart-breaking tragedy is there and cannot be undone; the greatest wish then is to avoid neighborhood and newspaper notoriety, to escape the unpleasantness of an autopsy, and the friendly family physician is called in and gives a certificate testifying to death from natural causes. All these tragedies could be avoided by forbidding the sale of strong poisons for which there is absolutely no need, no justification.

New York, June 10, 1913