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The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Chapter 7 The Pure -Food and Drug Act of 1906

A major step forward in the control of opiate addiction was taken in 1906 when Congress passed the first Pure Food and Drug Act despite opposition from the patent-medicine interests. The pressures to pass the act were intense-generated by Dr. Harvey W. Wiley and his crusading journalistic followers, notably Samuel Hopkins Adams, 1 who were known as "muckrakers."

The 1906 act required that medicines containing opiates and certain other drugs must say so on their labels. 2 Later amendments to the act also required that the quantity of each drug be truly stated on the label, and that the drugs meet official standards of identity and purity. Thus, for a time the act actually served to safeguard addicts.

The efforts leading to the 1906 act, the act itself and subsequent amendments, and educational campaigns urging families not to use patent medicines containing opiates, no doubt helped curb the making of new addicts. Indeed, there is evidence of a modest decline in opiate addiction from the peak in the 1890s until 1914. 3

For those already addicted, however, the protection afforded by the 1906 act and by subsequent amendments was short-lived, for in 1914 Congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Act, which cut off altogether the supply of legal opiates to addicts. As a result, the door was opened wide to adulterated, contaminated, and misbranded black-market narcotics of all kinds. The heroin available on the street in the United States today, for example, is a highly dangerous mixture of small amounts of heroin with large and varying amounts of adulterants. The black market similarly distributes today large quantities of adulterated, contaminated, and misbranded LSD and other drugs. The withdrawal of the protection of the food-and-drug laws from the users of illicit drugs, as we shall show, has been one of the sign)ficant factors in reducing addicts to their present miserable status, and in making drug use so damaging today.

Chapter 7

1. Samuel Hopkins Adams, The Great American Fraud: Articles on the Nostrum Evil and Quackery, reprinted from Collier's (1905, 1906, 1907, 1912) by American Medical Association, 1913.

2. Terry and Pellens, p. 75.

3. See, for example, Lawrence Kolb and A. G. Du Mez, The Prevalence and Trend of Drug Addiction in the United States and Factors Influencing It, Treasury Department, U.S. Public Health Service, Reprint No. 924 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1924), p. 14, Table 2.

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