question came up in a patent-medicine case in New York State. The judge tersely summed up the whole matter thus: "As to the public, if these pills are an innocent humbug, by which both parties" (the litigants) "are trying to make money, I doubt whether it is my duty on that question of property, of right and wrong between them to step outside of the case and abridge the innocent individual liberty, which all persons must be presumed to have in common, of suffering themselves to be humbugged."
But the trouble is, that too many patent pills and medicines are not "innocent" humbugs. On the contrary, a large class of patent preparations are deadly poisons. We do not call medicine in which chlorodyne, calomel, or opium is an ingredient, "innocent." We need only point out that most soothing-sirups contain opium; that most face preparations have arsenic and oxide of zinc; that most "stomach bitters," so called, are composed of powerful drugs or whiskey, principally; that most of the health-restorers contain narcotics.
The unrestricted sale of secret or quack medicines is objectionable. It has now become a matter of serious importance; it renders murder, suicide, and crime easy. People injured by taking patent medicine are not without a legal remedy. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently decided that nostrum-venders are liable for damages to any person who, relying upon their cleverly worded testimony, takes their baneful stuff, To quote from the decision: "These proprietary or patent medicines are secret, or intended to be secret, as to their contents. They "(the venders)" expect to derive a profit from such secrecy. They are therefore liable for all injuries sustained by any one who takes their medicine in such quantities as may be prescribed by them... . He "(the victim)" has a right to rely upon the statement and recommendation of the proprietor, printed and published through the world."
It is time that some restrictions were thrown around the sale of patent medicines. Venders of secret remedies practice cruel and dangerous deception. The traffic in some sixty thousand nostrums, many of them containing deadly drugs, has given rise to an anomalous state of affairs. For obvious reasons, the law should compel nostrum-venders to, make public the names and proportions of the ingredients. That is what is done in other countries. Even the Japanese are in advance of us in regulating the sale of patent medicine. They compel the proprietor of a secret remedy to present a sample, with the name and the amounts of the ingredients, directions for its use, and explanations of its supposed efficacy. Or, we might adopt the French plan of making
- 18 Howard's Pract. Reports, 242.
- The Blood Calm Company vs. Cooper, decided October 14, 1889.