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Towns Says Provision Must Be Made to Treat Thousands Who Got Habit Unconsciously.


Drug Fiends of the Underworld Will Be Little Affected by Statute Governing Physicians' Prescriptions.

New York Times June 21, 1914

The Boylan anti-drug law, which was passed by the New York Legislature on March 28, and which becomes effective on July 1, will result in serious consequences if State and city authorities do not make immediate provision for the treatment of "innocent" drug slaves, according to Charles B. Towns of 119 West Eighty-first Street, who framed the law.

"There are thousands of persons in this city alone who have unconsciously become addicted to the use of habit-forming drugs and who are not in any way to blame for their condition," Mr. Towns said yesterday. "Some of these innocent victims may not yet know that they have become drug fiends. No estimate can be made of their number. These are persons who, perhaps several years ago, were given drugs on physicians prescriptions to alleviate suffering from some disease or injury which, in most of the cases has since been cured. The administration of the drug, however, creates a craving for it which the patient cannot withstand, and after the cause for the first doses is gone the habit remains. The victims then secure more and more of the drug on their physicians' prescriptions. If the drug is denied them they become violently nervous and show all of the horrible symptoms of the deprived dope fiend within twenty-four hours; making it necessary for their physicians to renew the prescriptions.

"The new law provides that in the future, it shall be unlawful for any physician, veterinarian, or dentist to issue prescriptions for drugs except after a physical examination for the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity, and to prevent the forging of prescription blanks every doctor signing them must affix a record of his name in full, his office address, office hours, and telephone number, and to whom the prescription is issued, together with the date of issuance. It can be filled but once, and must be filled within ten days. It will also be unlawful for any person to fill such prescription without first verifying its authenticity by telephone or otherwise or to have drugs in his possession without authority. Aside from the fact that any dealer or physician found guilty of breaking the new law will be guilty of a misdemeanor, his license may be revoked upon his conviction.

"These new strictures will make it impossible for the innocent drug fiends to secure more drugs from their physicians. The law for the time being will hardly affect the drug users of the underworld, who have long known secret channels through which they can obtain their drugs. It will fall most heavily on the person who has broken no law in the past in securing habit forming drugs and will drive him--or her, for there are vast numbers of women who have become drug fiends in this manner--to seek illicit drug dens if other methods are not speedily provided. The law provides that persons who are found to be habitual users of such drugs shall be committed to a State, county, or city hospital or institution licensed under the State Lunacy Commission until they have been treated sufficiently to warrant their release. It takes only five or six days to cure a drug fiend in a hospital, but as yet the hospitals licensed by the commission have not made ample preparation for the treatment of more than a small percentage of the cases which should be sent to them when the law goes into effect if the highest good is to be derived from the law.

"The movement for intelligent legislation regulating drug traffic is comparatively young and New York's new law will not remedy conditions in this State, but it is a good beginning. It should attract the attention of intelligent people in other States, and should be imitated throughout the country. Until this is done, however, and uniform anti-drug legislation has been secured we will be handicapped by the fact that drug users in New York can send prescriptions across the river to New Jersey, or elsewhere, and have them filled with little inconvenience. The law provides that all orders for the wholesale purchase of drugs must be written on serially numbered, duplicated blanks furnished by the Commissioner of Health. This will keep track of all supplies of drugs purchased in New York, but druggists, or persons posing as druggists, will still be able to order from Philadelphia, or elsewhere on their regular letterhead paper or on fake letterhead paper. The need of national legislation is obvious."
Mr. Towns has prepared an act which he hopes to have passed by Congress imposing a tax upon and regulating the importation, production, manufacture and distribution of habit-forming drugs. Under the present Federal law, he said yesterday, the government asks no question concerning the disposition which is made of crude drugs imported into the country, but simply taxes them as they come in. His bill proposes that a close record be kept of every ounce of habit-forming drug that enters the country until it is finally consumed under orders from a reputable physician. There should also be legal provision, he said yesterday, to prevent the filling of prescriptions for drugs issued by any physician not a resident of the State in which the prescription is filled, so as to overcome the present interstate laxity. In setting an example in the matter for other States to follow, it was suggested it would be a good idea for the New York State Medical Society to prepare official prescription blanks exclusively for drugs and to have them copyrighted so that similar blanks could not be printed for illicit use.

When asked what he considered the principal cause of the widespread use of drugs, Mr. Towns said:

"In the six thousand cases I have studied, I have found that in every case in which the victim was a youth he had smoked cigarettes long before he began to take drugs." Effective universal anti-drug legislation, he said, would reduce lunacy and criminality about 40 per cent.


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