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 The Traffic in Narcotics

Historical References

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United States Commissioner of Narcotics



United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey Former Chairman, Legislative Commission to Study Narcotics, General Assembly of New Jersey





IN JANUARY, 1929, THE BUREAU OF SOCIAL HYGIENE, INC., OFFERED to the National Research Council a sum of money to defray the expenses incidental to the conduct of research studies of cause and effect, prevention, and cure of drug addiction. The Council accepted the funds and appointed in its Division of Medical Sciences, to draft and supervise a plan of research work, a Committee on Drug Addiction (later denominated the Committee on Drug Addiction and Narcotics). In addition to the Chairman who was a Consulting Pathologist to the National Institute of Health, the Committee was composed of two experts representing chemistry, five experts representing pharmacology, the Commissioner of Narcotics, the Assistant Surgeon General and the former Assistant Surgeon General, respectively, of the then Division of Mental Hygiene of the U. S. Public Health Service, and the Chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences, ex officio. Although the membership of the Committee, with one exception, has changed since it was originally established, the Committee continues to have expert representation of the sciences of pathology, chemistry and pharmacology, and of the government agencies mentioned.

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In the first report of the Committee on Drug Addiction, covering the period from January 1, 1929 to April 30, 1930, it set forth its objectives as follows:

First, the reduction of the legitimate uses of habit-forming drugs to be obtained through the decrease of physicians' prescriptions and proprietary remedies containing such drugs.

Second, the replacement of each use of habit-forming drugs with a substance non-habit-forming but capable of producing the medicinal action required of the habit-forming product.

Third, in this way to reduce to a minimum the legitimate production of alkaloids and thus to lessen the problem of police authority necessary to control the situation.

To accomplish these three results the Committee concluded that it would be necessary to proceed in the following ways in laying out the program of its work:

1. To prepare for general educational purposes by means of the lay and scientific press monographs on the indispensable uses of morphine and other alkaloids.

2. To seek to prepare by synthesis and analysis compounds without addiction fractions that would perform in medical practice the functions now obtained by those with addiction properties.

3. To study the effects of the compounds thus obtained on animals and later to test the value of these compounds as replacement substances in human therapy.

At the request of the Committee, the American Medical Association in 1931 caused several articles to be prepared by various physicians under the general subject "The Indispensable Use of Narcotics," these articles being published in issues of the Association's Journal of that year. These articles were designed to educate physicians to reduce to the minimum the use of opium arid its derivatives. Along the lines of Items 2 and 3 of its plan of procedure, the Committee directed the performance of a vast amount of research work. The nature and extent of this work is shown in publications by the investigators: Chemistry of the




Opium Alkaloids, by Small and Lutz, (Supplement No. 103 to the Public Health Reports); The Pharmacology of the Opium Alkaloids, by Krueger, Eddy, and Sumwalt, (Supplement No. 165 to the Public Health Reports); and Studies on Drug Addiction, by Small, Eddy, Mosettig, and Himmelsbach, (Supplement No 138 to the Public Health Reports ).

The Committee, however, has not restricted its research activity to that concerning the various opium derivatives, whether new or old. In 1939, dolantin (also known as pethidine or Demerol) was discovered, and the discovery of amidone (also known as methadon, Dolophine or Adanon) followed shortly thereafter, with the subsequent development of a number of variant forms of these two new drugs. Still later, another new drug in this class was discovered and given the name of Dromoran. All of these new drugs and some of their variant forms were prepared synthetically and bore no close chemical relationship to morphine, yet they were found to have analgesic properties similar to morphine which would indicate their importance as substitutes for morphine for pain-relief. To determine the status of any such new drug, particularly with reference to the possible application of the Federal narcotic laws, it is necessary to ascertain whether it also possesses addiction-forming or addiction-sustaining liability similar to morphine. The Committee undertakes to determine, on the basis of clinical studies, whether the new drug possesses sufficient merit for analgesic use in comparison with morphine or other analgesics already available to justify further study and, if this finding is favorable, it recommends that addiction-liability tests be made. It receives the full cooperation of interested government agencies such as the Public Health Service, the Bureau of Narcotics, and the Food and Drug Administration, but its decision is based upon an unbiased scientific analysis of the facts and is respected alike by the government agencies concerned and the producers of the new drugs.

The Committee acts as scientific adviser to any government agency or to a professional association, on any important question within its competency relating to narcotic drugs or narcotic drug addiction. It also acts as the unofficial but highly-respected clearing




house for proposals for privately-conducted scientific projects involving the use of narcotic drugs or synthetic substitutes, and its approval is usually accepted as a guaranty that the project as submitted is technically adequate, practically worth while, and is probably not being duplicated elsewhere.