By HORATIO C. WOOD, Jr., M.D.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
THE quantity of secret and semi-secret drug mixtures consumed by the American people is enormous. While it is impossible to determine accurately the extent of the custom of self-medication a recent writer has estimated that over $100,000,000 is expended annually for so-called 'patent medicines.' The investigation of the causes which have led to the growth of this business affords an interesting study of human nature and also throws a light upon the subject of the effect on the health of the community. Since time was mankind has desired when sick the advice of some one who has devoted especial attention to the subject of relieving human suffering, and while here and there are scattered over the land adherents to various faddists, who, on account of religious beliefs or credence in some peculiar theory of health, have ceased to consult doctors, yet the overwhelming majority of the people still believe in the usefulness of the medical profession as well as of drugs.
The two motives which most commonly lead to experimentation with advertised nostrums are the desire to avoid calling in a physician and to save thereby the doctor's fee, and the hope that better results may be achieved than are offered by the regular medical profession. Occasionally, as in unsettled districts, the impossibility of obtaining medical advice forces 'home treatment,' but this condition is so infrequent that it may be practically disregarded.
In the majority of instances it is the indisposition to send for the doctor which explains the self-dosing, not always from the desire to save money, but at times from a sense of shame in annoying a busy man with some trivial complaint which the patient believes he can treat himself with equal benefit. This feeling covers the use of a large number of the less objectionable proprietary remedies such as the laxatives, but is also the predominant factor in the employment of the most diabolical of them all, the 'soothing syrups,' with which hundreds of non-thinking mothers are poisoning their children. One of the dangers, which attend all self-medication but apply with especial force to the habit of relieving seemingly trivial complaints, is that some serious trouble, still in its formative stage when proper treatment is most efficacious, is neglected until the damage wrought becomes irreparable. For example, a man is taken with what he believes to be an