Strategic Suicide: The Birth of the Modern American Drug War:
Harvey Wiley, an Anti-Saloon League temperance fundamentalist, was
the Chief Chemist of the Department of Agriculture. He also served as
president of the A.M.A.-A.Ph.A. U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, the purpose
of which was to draw up the legally official U.S. Pharmacopeia,
on which the U.S. Dispensatory is based.
In 1903 he set up a government lab to publicize the contents of the
patent medicines, making much of their use of the only effective solvent
and preservative they had, alcohol. During AMA testimony for alcohol
Prohibition, the docs, taking "an active part in the propaganda against
drink," as the Times put it in 1918 - lying through their teeth
- swore that alcohol "has no scientific value" in therapeutics.
Alcohol was the standard battlefield disinfectant of the American army
since the Revolutionary War, and the basic emergency anesthetic of the
backwoods. The 1918 U.S. Dispensatory had it official as a germicide
and surgical disinfectant, anesthetic, heart stimulant and "The purer
forms of alcohol, whether strong or diluted, are employed almost exclusively
in pharmacy; as in the preparation of medicines, such as ether, into
the composition of which they enter; for the preservation of organic
substances; in the extraction of the active principles of drugs, as
in tinctures..." Wiley didn't want no more Lydia Pinkhams.
Wiley's crowning triumph, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, is a great
advance in medical monopoly and a modest advance in truth in labeling.
Many over the counter proprietaries made absurd claims and refused to
reveal their contents, which often were poisonous. The act, however,
doesn't require content disclosure, even for poisons, and doesn't challenge
absurd claims; it only mandates truth in content labeling, should the
manufacturer care to disclose the contents.
Content disclosure was mandatory only for those drugs specifically listed
under regulation 28, the most popular medicines in the country. Corrosive
acids, poisonous metals and toxic minerals could all continue to be
packaged without being listed. Wiley completely ignored mercury, chlorine,
antimony, sulphuric acid and the many other real poisons then in wide
use. Only ten of the most commercially valuable medicines required listing,
along with the percentage of their content, including gum opium, marijuana,
coca leaves, "or any derivative or preparation thereof." Wiley knew
perfectly well that these "substances" were not only not "poisonous,"
but were the most widely prescribed medicines in the country - and that,
of course, was the real point.
As Dr. David Macht, Instructor in Clinical Medicine and Lecturer in
Pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University put it in 1915, in the Journal
of the AMA no less: "If the entire materia medica at our disposal were
limited to the choice and use of only one drug, I am sure that a great
many, if not the majority, of us would choose opium; and I am convinced
that if we were to select, say half a dozen of the most important drugs
in the Pharmacopoeia, we should all place opium in the first rank."
Wiley knew that opium sap was the safest and most effective herbal painkiller,
febrifugue, sedative, hypnotic and antispasmodic on the market, official
for these purposes, and that easy access to it was essential to the
poor. Nonetheless, he led the propaganda campaign - from his bully pulpit
in the Department of Agriculture and from his regular column in Good
Housekeeping - that advertised opium as a baby killer when not dispensed
by the hand of a licensed personage. Opium's demonic image, pounded
in decade after decade, is assumed to be reality today by the vast majority
The 1918 U.S. Dispensatory: "Although capable of fulfilling all
the indications for which morphine [one of opium sap's 39 alkaloids]
is employed (above), when used as an analgesic or somnifacient, the
alkaloid is usually preferred because of its lesser ability to disturb
digestion. On the other hand, in diarrhea and spasmodic colic
the whole drug is superior to the alkaloid. Opium is frequently a valuable
remedy in diabetes mellitus. How it acts is uncertain, but the
whole drug is to be preferred to any of its alkaloids. Because of its
peculiar power in dilating the vessels of the skin opium tends to increase
the sweat and is therefore useful in minor infections, such as colds,
grippe, muscular rheumatism, and the like."
The legally official guide of organized medicine claimed, word for word,
what the patent medicines claimed for opium; the entry for it is the
longest in the dispensatory, nineteen pages. Unlike the Dispensatory
he helped to write, however, Wiley made no legal distinction between
the herbal sap and Bayer's souped up refined morphine, heroin.
When a baby died of whooping cough or pneumonia, if it had been given
an opiate to reduce the fever, stop the hacking cough and let it sleep,
Wiley, in Good Housekeeping, attributed the death to the medicine.
Given the lack of effective antibiotics and vaccines, opium was a great
life-saver; many a baby owed its life to opium, as Professor Macht indicated.
The soothing syrups, like Parke Davis' Cocillana, or the tonic wines
like Vin Mariani, were perfectly safe and healthful; they were effective
medicine, and that was the point.
Sanger worried about access to medicine, birth control and free clinics
for the poor. Wiley worried about exactly the opposite: restricting
access to the commercial interests he represented, criminalization of
birth control, and the monopolistic domination of medical fees.
In 1899 the AMA was taken over by a brilliant medical hustler named
George H. Simmons. Between 1899 and 1924 Simmons was Editor of The
Journal of the AMA, Executive Secretary, General Manager, and Chief
of the Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry. The two posts he held longest,
Editor of the Journal and Chief of the Council on Pharmacy, were the
two most powerful positions in the organization.
Simmons' medical career began in Nebraska in the 1880's, operating a
massage parlor and abortion clinic as a licensed homeopath. In his ads
in the Lincoln papers he claimed to be a "licentiate of Gynecology and
Obstetrics from the Rotunda Hospitals, Dublin, Ireland." Actually, the
only regular medical degree he ever got in his life came from an unaccredited
mail order diploma mill called the Rush Medical College of Chicago (apt
name) in 1892. The prescription records in Lincoln proved that while
"studying" in Chicago, Simmons was actually practicing in Lincoln. These
facts came out in sworn testimony before a Senate committee in 1930
investigating the AMA's "practices in restraint of trade." The ophthalmic
surgeon Emanuel Josephson was so infuriated by Simmons' behavior that
he carefully catalogued the case against him in his 1941 book, Merchants
Without approval from the AMA's Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry no
new drug could advertise in The Journal of the AMA or in any
other major journal or paper. Through kick-back advertising contracts
and truth in advertising laws which recognized only official AMA opinion
as the truth, Simmons' Council on Pharmacy achieved enormous power.
Harvey Wiley, while head of the USDA, was a member of the AMA's Council
Dr. Henry Rusby, Dean of the College of Pharmacy of Columbia University
and an intrepid botanical explorer, recounted this story to Dr. Josephson:
In 1913 Simmons had refused to approve the new radium line of Joseph
Flannery, president of the Standard Chemical Company of Pittsburgh.
Madame Curie herself had pronounced Flannery's radium up to standard,
but Simmons adamantly refused to put it in his list of New and Non-Official
Remedies, without offering any explanation. Flannery complained
to his old friend Rusby that the rejection could cost him a fortune,
whereupon Rusby told him to try bribery. After Flannery paid Simmons
a hefty sum, the "analysis" department of the AMA's Council on Pharmacy
and Chemistry endorsed Flannery's radium line.
But one of his products, a solution of radium salts for drinking, was
highly toxic. With official AMA endorsement this "Radium Drinking Water"
killed quite a few people before the USDA reacted. Another of Simmons'
big winners was dinitrophenol, a lethal airplane glue approved by the
Council on Pharmacy for weight reduction. Simmons' substitution of blackmail
for medical analysis was standard AMA procedure, as Parke-Davis, Loesser
and Abbot laboratories testified in court and before Congress.
It was this Council on Pharmacy that Congress went to for the basic
pharmacological definitions that are the standing legal precedents of
today's drug laws - and they are a tissue of overt empirical lies. The
AMA and APhA wanted one thing only from The Pure Food and Drug Act and
The Harrison Act - complete commercial control of the most valuable
At the turn of the century, an alcohol extract of whole coca leaves,
mixed with good French wines, was the best-selling tonic wine in the
world, Vin Mariani. It was happily lauded to the skies in Mariani's
full-page ads by the likes of Thomas Edison, Jules Verne, Pope Leo XIII,
Queen Victoria, Sarah Bernhardt, Emile Zola, Charles Gounod and Bartholdi,
sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.
Mariani said that he used a traditional alcohol infusion of whole coca
leaves. He claimed never to have used isolated cocaine. Whether that
is true or not, Mariani was world famous as a connaisseur
of coca leaves. Their distinctions in the Andes were as sharp as the
distinctions between French wines. Many of Mariani's imitators, of course,
just added refined cocaine and sugar to cheap wine. This helped organized
medicine to engineer a legal monopoly on the enormous tonic wine business.
They were enabled to define the leaf, in law, as dangerous as the alkaloid,
and therefore available only by prescription.
It takes a ton of coca leaves to make 5-20 pounds of cocaine - there
is no medical analogy between the two, any more than between potato
and its poisonous trace alkaloids, which are, by the way, far more toxic
than cocaine. Below is one of Mariani's many imitators, Sears, Roebuck,
from their 1897 catalog.