Collier's for December 2 1905

The Great American Fraud


IV-The Subtle Poisons [Part 2 of 2]

Drugs That Deprave

Another acquaintance writes me that he is unable to dissuade his wife from the constant use of both Orangeine and Bromo-Selzer, although her health is breaking down. Often it is difficult for a physician to diagnose these cases because the symptoms are those of certain diseases in which the blood deteriorates, and, moreover, the victim, as in opium and cocaine slavery, will positively deny having used the drug. A case of acetanilid addiction (in cephalgin," and ethical proprietary) is thus reported:

When the drug was withheld, the patient soon began to exhibit all the traits peculiar to the confirmed morphine-maniac - moral depravity and the like. She employed every possible means to obtain the drug, attempting even to bribe the nurse, and this failing, even members of the family."

Another report of a similar case (andd there are plenty of them to select from) reads:

Stomach, increasingly irritable; skin a grayish or light purplish hue; palpitation and slight enlargement of the heart; blood discolored to a chocolate hue. The patient denied that she had been using acetanilid, but it was discovered that for a year she had been obtaining it in the form of a proprietary remedy, and had contracted a regular 'habit.' On the discontinuance of the drug, the symptoms disappeared. She was discharged from the hospital as cured, but soon returned to the use of the drug and applied for readmission, displaying the former symptoms."

Where I have found a renegade physician making his millions out of Peruna, or a professional promoter trading on the charlatanry of Liquozone, it has seemed superfluous to comment on the personality of the men. The are what their business connotes. With Orangeine, the case is somewhat different. Its proprietors are men of standing in other and reputable spheres of activity. Charles L. Bartlett, its president, is a graduate of Yale University and a man of some prominence in its alumni affairs. Orangeine is a side issue with him. Professionally he is the Western representative of Ivory Soap, one of the heaviest of legitimate advertisers, and he doubtless learned from this the value of skillful exploitation. Next to Mr. Bartlett, the largest owner of stock (unless he has recently sold out) is William Gillette, the actor, whose enthusiastic indorsement of the powders is known in a personal sense to the profession which he follows, and in print to hundreds of thousands of theatre-goers who have read it in their programmes. Whatever these gentlemen may think of their product (and I understand that, incredible as it may seem, both of them are constant users of it and genuine believers in it), the methods by which it is sold, and the essential and mendacious concealment of its real nature, illustrate the level to which otherwise upright and decent men are brought by a business which c an not profitably include either uprightness or decency ion its methods.

Orangeine is less dangerous, except in extent of use, than many other acetanilid mixtures which are much the same thing under a different name. A friend of mine with a weak heart took the printed dose of Laxative Bromo Quinine and lay at the point of death for a week. There is no word of warning on the label. In many places samples of headache powders are distributed on the doorsteps. The St. Louis "Chronicle" records a result:

HUNTINGTON, WEST VIRGINIA, August 15, 1905. - "While Mrs. Thomas Patterson was preparing supper last evening she was stricken with a violent headache, and took a headache powder that had been thrown in at her door the day before. Immediately she was seized with spasms, and in an hour she was dead."


The following well-known "remedies," both "ethical" and "patent," depend for their results upon the heart-depressing action of Acetanilid:

ORANGINE Dr. Davis's Headache


Royal Pain Powders Antikamnia
Miniature Headache Ammonol


Megrimine Phenalgin
Anti-Headache Cephalgin

and practically all of the drug-store-vended "headache cures " and "anti-pain" remedies.

Take no nostrum of this class without a doctor's prescription, unless you are sure of contains no acetanilid. Make the druggist tell you. He is responsible. A suit for damages has recently been won against a New York drug store for illness consequent upon the sale of a "guaranteed harmless" headache tablet containing three grains of acetanilid.

That even the lower order of animals is not safe is sown by a canine tragedy in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where a prize collie dog incautiously devoured three sample tablets and died in an hour. Yet the distributing agents of these mixtures do not hesitate to lie about them. Rochester, N. Y., has an excellent ordinance forbidding the distribution of sample medicines, except by permission of the health officer. An agent for Miniature Headache Powders called on Dr. Goler with a request for leave to distribute twenty-five thousand samples.

"What's your formula?" asked the official.

"Salicylate of soda and sugar of mild," replied the traveling man.

"And you pretend to cure headaches with that?" said the doctor. "I'll look into it."

Analyses showed that the powders were an acetanilid mixture. The sample man didn't wait for the result. He hasn't been back to Rochester since, although Dr. Goler is hopefully awaiting him.

Bromo-Selzer is commonly sold in drug stores, both by the bottle and at soda fountains. The full dose is "a heaping teaspoonful." A heaping teaspoonful of Bromo-Selzer means about ten grains of acetanilid. The United States Pharmacopoeia dose is four grains: five grains have been known to produce fatal results. The prescribed dose of Bromo-Selzer is dangerous and has been know to produce sudden collapse.

Megrimine is a warranted headache cure that is advertised in several of the magazines. A newly arrived guest at a Long Island house party brought along several lots and distributed them as a remedy for headache and that tired feeling. It was perfectly harmless, she declared; didn't the advertisement say "leaves no unpleasant effects"? As a late dance the night before had left its impress upon the feminine members of the house party, there was a general acceptance of the "bracer." That night the local physician visited the local house party (on special "rush" invitation) and was well satisfied to pull his patients through. He had never before seen acetanilid poisoning by wholesale. A Chicago druggist writes me that the wife of a prominent physician buys Megrimine of him by the half-dozen lots, secretly. She has the habit.

On October 9, W. H. Hawkins, superintendent of the American Detective Association, a man of powerful physique and apparently in good health, went to drug store in Anderson, Indiana, and took a dose of Dr. Davis's Headache Powders. He then boarded a car for Marion, and shortly after fell to the floor dead. The coroner's verdict is reproduced on the opposite page. Whether these powders are made by a Dr. W. C. Davis of Indianapolis, who makes Anti-Headache, I am unable to state. Anti-Headache describes itself as "a compound of mild ingredients and positively contains no dangerous drugs." It is almost pure acetanilid.

In the "ethical" field the harm done by this class of proprietaries is perhaps as great as in the open field, for many of those which are supposed to be sold only in prescriptions are as freely distributed to the laity as Peruna. And their advertising is hardly different. (top)

Dangers of Antikamnia

Antikamnia, claiming to be an "ethical" remedy, and advertising through the medical press by methods that would with little alteration fit any patent painkiller on the market, is no less dangerous or fraudulent than the Orangeine class which it almost exactly parallels in composition. It was at first exploited as a "new synthetical coal-tar derivative," which it isn't and never was. It is simply half or more acetanilid (some analyses show as high as sixty eight per cent) with other unimportant ingredients in varying proportions. In a booklet entitled "Light on Pain," and distributed on doorsteps, II find under an alphabetical list of diseases this invitation to form the Antikamnia habit.

"Nervousness (overwork and excesses) - Dose: One Antikamnia tablet every two or three hours.

"Shoppers' or Sightseers' Headache - Dose: Two Antikamnia tablets every three hours.

"Worry (nervousness: the 'Blues') - Dose: One or two Antikamnia and Codeine tablets every three hours."

Codeine is obtained from opium. The codeine habit is well known to all institutions which treat drug addictions, and is recognized as being no less difficult to cure than the morphine habit.

A typical instance of what Antikamnia will do for its users is that of a Pennsylvania merchant, fifty years old, who had declined, without apparent cause, from one hundred and forty to one hundred and sixteen pounds, and was finally brought to Philadelphia in a state of stupor. His pulse was barely perceptible, his skin dusky, and his blood of a deep chocolate color. On reviving he was questioned as to whether he had been taking headache powders. He had, for several years. What kind? Antikamnia; sometimes in the plain tablets, at other times Antikamnia with codeine. How many? About twelve a day. He was greatly surprised to learn that this habit was responsible for his condition.

"My doctor gave it to me for insomnia, " he said, and it appeared that the patient had never even been warned of the dangerous character of the drug.

Were it obtainable, I would print here the full name and address of that attending physician, as one unfit, either through ignorance or carelessness, to practice his profession. And there would be other physicians all over the county who could, under that description, suffer the same indictment within their own minds for starting innocent patients upon a destructive and sometimes fatal course. For it is the careless of conscienceless physician who gets the customer for the "ethical" headache remedies and the customer, once secured, pays a profit, very literally, with his own blood. Once having taken Antikamnia, the layman, unless informed as to its true nature, will often return to the drub store and purchase it, with the impression that it is a specific drub, like quinine or potassium chlorate, instead of a disguised poison exploited and sold under patent rights by a private concern. the United States Post Office, in its broad tolerance, permits the Antikamnia Company to send through the mails little sample boxes containing tablets enough to kill an ordinary man, and these samples are sent not only to physicians, as is the rule with ethical remedies, but to lawyers, business men, "brain-workers," and other prospective purchasing classes. The box bears the lying statements: "No drug habit - no heart effect."

Just as this is going to press the following significant case comes from Iowa:

FARMINGTON, IOWA, October 6. - (Special to the "Constitution-Democrat."
Mrs. Hattie Kick, one of the best and most prominent ladies of Farmington, died rather suddenly Wednesday morning at ten o'clock from an overdose of antikamnia, which she took for a severe headache from which she was suffering. Mrs. Kick was subject to severe headaches, and was a frequent user of antikamnia, her favorite remedy for this ailment."

There is but one safeguard in the use of these remedies; to regard them as one would regard opium and to employ them only with the consent of s physician who understands their true nature. Acetanilid has its uses but not as a generic pain killer. Pain is a symptom; you can drug it away temporarily, but it will return clamoring for more payment until the final price is hopeless enslavement. Were the skill and bones on every box of this class of poison the danger would be greatly minimized.

With opium and cocaine the case is different. The very words are danger signals, legal restrictions safeguard the public, to a greater or less degree, from their indiscriminate use. Normal people do not knowingly take opium, or its derivatives, except with the sanction of a physician, and there is even spreading abroad a belief (surely an expression of the primal law of preservation) that the licensed practitioner leans too readily toward the convenient narcotics.

But this perilous stuff is the ideal basis for a patent medicine, because its results are immediate (though never permanent) , and it is its own best advertisement in that one dose imperatively calls for another. Therefore it behooves the manufacturer of opiates to disguise the use of the drug. This he does in various forms , and he has found his greatest success in the "cough and consumption cures" and the soothing syrup class. The former of these will be considered in another article. As to the "soothing syrups," designed for the drugging of helpless infants, even the trade does not know how many have risen, made their base profit, and subsided. A few survived, probably less harmful than the abandoned ones, on the average so that by taking the conspicuous survivors as a type, I am at least doing no injustice to the class.

Some years ago I heard a prominent New York lawyer, asked by his office scrub-woman to buy a ticket for some "Association" ball, say to her: "How can you go to these affairs, Nora, when you have two young children at home?"

"Sure, they're all right, she returned blithely; "Just wan teaspoonful of Winslow's an' they lay like the dead till mornin'."

What eventually became of the scrubwoman's children I don't know. The typical result of this practice is described by a Detroit physician, who has been making a special study of Michigan's high mortality rate:

"Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup is extensively used among the poorer classes as a means of pacifying their babies. These children eventually come into the hands of physicians with a greater or less addiction to the opium habit. The sight of a parent drugging a helpless infant into a semi-comatose condition is not an elevating one for this civilized age, and it is a very common practice. I can give you one illustration from my own hospital experience, which was told me by the father of the girl. A middle-aged railroad man of Kansas City had a small daughter with summer diarrhea. For this she was given a patent diarrhea medicine. It controlled the trouble, but as soon as the remedy was withdrawn the diarrhea returned. At every withdrawal the trouble began anew, and the final result was that they never succeeded in curing this daughter of the opium habit which was to come upon her. It was some years afterward that the parents became aware that she had contracted the habit, when the physician took away the patent medicine and gave the girl morphine with exactly the same result which she had experienced with the patent remedy. At the time the father told me this story, his daughter was nineteen years of age, an only child of wealthy parents, and one who could have had every advantage in life, but who was a complete wreck in every way as a result of the opium habit. The father told me, with tears in his eyes, that he would rather she had died with the original illness than to have lived to become the creature which she them was."

The proprietor of a drug store in Sane Jose, California, writes to COLLIER'S as follows:

"I have a good customer, a married woman with five children, all under ten years of age. When her last baby was born, about a year ago, the first thing she did was to order a bottle of Winslow's Soothing Syrup and every other week another bottle was bought at first, until now a bottle is brought home every third day. Why? Because the baby has become habituated to the drug. I am not well enough acquainted with the family to be able to say that the weaned children show any present abnormality of health due to the opium contained in the drug, but the after effects of opium have been thus described...Another instance, quite as startling, was that of a mother who gave large quantities of soothing syrup to two of her children in infancy, then becoming convinced of its danger, abandoned its use. These children in middle life became neurotics, spirit and drug takers. Three children, born later and not given any drugs in early life, grew up strong and healthy.

"I fear the children of the woman in question will all suffer for their mother's ignorance, or worse, in later life, and have tried to do my duty by sending word to the mother of the harmful nature of the stuff, but without effect.

"P.S.-How many neurotics, fiends, and criminals may not 'Mrs. Winslow' be sponsor for?"

This query is respectfully referred to the Anglo-American Drug Company of New York, which makes its handsome profit from this slave trade.

Recent legislation on the part of the New York State Board of Pharmacy will tend to decrease the profit, as it requires that a poison label be put on each bottle of the product, as has long been the law in England.

An Omaha physician reports a case of poisoning from a compound bearing the touching name of "Kopp's Baby Friend," which has a considerable sale in the Middle West and in Central New York. It is made of sweetened water and morphine, about one-third grain of morphine to the ounce.

"The child (after taking four drops) went into a stupor at once, the pupils were pin-pointed, skin cool and clammy, heart and respiration slow. I treated the case as one of opium poisoning, but it took twelve hours before my little patient was out of danger.

As if to put a point of satirical grimness upon the matter, the responsible proprietor of this particular business of drugging helpless babies is a woman, Mrs. J. A. Kopp of York, Pennsylvania.


I HAVE read of his fame in the papers
And gazed on his picture with pride,
But I never have seen Mr. Snyde.
Yet in high patent-medical circles,
Where Shekel is lauded to fame,
I've heard it inferred, by a hint, by a word.
That Shekel and Snyde are the same!
That a psychical, strange metamorphical change
Comes over that healer of pain,
That at will he can slide to the aspect of Snyde,
Or presto! be Shekel again.

(Shekel and Snyde in a single man
Graft on a purely medical plan
To sell a brew to the idiots who
Believe in the Heathen Science,
Snyde in secret mixes the stuff,
Shekel in public sells enough
Too get-rich-quick at the cost of the sick--
What a frightfully neat appliance.)

When invalids come to his office
a kindly old man doth appear.
"I can cure you," says he, "for a nominal fee,"
Then he fades to a room in the rear,
Where he mixes a poison prescription,
Phenacetin, chloral, cocaine,
And labels the dope, "Shekel's Water of Hope,"
As he grins in a cynical vein,
"It's swift and it's sure; if it kills it's a cure!
'Twill ease 'em of money and pain."
Thus chuckles inside the demoniac Snyde
Ere he changes to Shekel again.

(Shekel and Snyde is the way they do
To play both ends and the middle, too.
"The more you take, the more we make,"
Is the motto of Heathen Science.
Shekel shows his benevolent side,
But when he changes to hideous Snyde
He rolls his pills for the Taste that Kills--
What a frightfully neat appliance!)

There's "Shekel's Pale Pills for the Puny,"
"Brain Cordial" and "Belgian Nerve Bean,"
Cheap whiskey in some, in others bad rum,
In others judicial morphine.
When a funeral trolls by his office,
"Tut. tut!" says the Doctor inside,
"It's really a shame, and there's no one to blame
But that naughty bad man, Mr. Snyde!"
Then he fades to the rear and turns to the queer
Old Devil who sings the refrain,
"It's swift and it's sure: when it kills it's a cure!"
Ere he changes to shekel again.

(Shekel and Snyde--just another name
For the double deck of a bunco game
To squeeze the tin from the pale and thin
Believers in Heathen Science.
The ranker the poison the more they sell--
Quacks would starve if folks kept well.
So their favorite trick is to keep 'em sick
By their frightfully neat appliance.)

Making cocaine fiends is another profitable enterprise. Catarrh powders are the medium. A decent druggist will not sell cocaine as such, steadily, to any customer, except upon prescription, but most druggists find salve for their consciences in the fact that the subtle and terrible drug is in the form of somebody's sure cure. There is need to say of the effects of cocaine, other than it is destructive to mind and body alike, and appalling in its breaking down of all moral restraint. Yet in New York City it is distributed in "samples" at ferries and railway stations. You may see the empty boxes and instructive labels littering the gutters of Broadway any Saturday night, when the drug-store trade is briskest.

Birney's Catarrhal Powder, Dr. Cole's Catarrh Cure, Dr. Gray's Catarrh Powder, and Crown Catarrh Powder are the ones most in demand. All of them are cocaine; the other ingredients are unimportant--perhaps even superfluous.

Whether or not the bottles are labeled with the amount of cocaine makes little difference. The habitues know. In one respect, however, the labels help them by giving information as to which nostrum is the most heavily drugged.

"People come in here," a New York City druggist tells me, "ask what catarrh powders we've got, read the labels, and pick out the one that's got the most cocaine. When I see a customer comparing labels, I know she's a fiend."

Naturally these owners and exploiters of these mixtures claim that the small amount of cocaine contained is harmless. For instance, the "Crown Cure," admitting two and one-half percent, says:

"Of course. this is a very small and harmless amount. Cocaine is now considered to be the most valuable addition to modern medicine. . .it is the most perfect relief known."

Birney's Catarrh Cure runs as high as four per cent, and can produce testimonials vouching for its harmlessness. Here is a Birney "testimonial" to the opposite effect, obtained "without solicitation or payment" I have ventured to put it in the approved form), which no sufferer from catarrh can afford to miss



says of


"Three years ago Thompson was a strong man. Now he is without money, Health, home, or friends."
(Chicago "Tribune")

"I began taking Birney's Catarrh Cure (says Thompson) three years ago, and the longing  for the drug has grown so potent that I suffer without it.

I followed directions at first, then I increased the quantity until I bought the stuff by the dozen bottles."

A famous drink and drug cure in Illinois had, as a patient, not long ago, a fourteen-year -old boy, who was a slave to the Birney brand of cocaine. He had rum his father $300 in debt, so heavy were his purchases of the poison.

Chicago long ago settled this cocaine matter in the only logical way. The proprietor of a large downtown drug store noticed several years ago that at noon numbers of the ship girls from a great department store purchased catarrh powders over his counter. He had his clerk warn them that the powders contained deleterious drugs. The girls continued to purchase increasing numbers and quantity. He sent word to the superintendent of the store. "That accounts for the number of our girls who have gone wrong of late,' was the superintendent's comment. The druggist, Mr. McConnell, had an analysis made by the Board of Health which showed it was nearly four per cent cocaine, whereupon he threw it and similar powders out of stock. The girls went elsewhere. Mr. McConnell traced them and started a general movement against this class of remedies which resulted in an ordinance forbidding their sale. Birney's Catarrhal Powders, as I am informed, to meet the new conditions, brought out a powder without cocaine, which had the briefest kind of a sale. For weeks thereafter the downtown stores were haunted by haggard young men and women, who begged for "the old powders; these new ones don't do any good." As high as $1.00 premium was paid for the four per cent cocaine species. To-day the Illinois druggist who sells cocaine in this form is liable to arrest. Yet, in New York, at the corner of Forty-second Street and Broadway, I saw recently a show-window display of the Birney cure, and similar displays are not uncommon in other cities.

Regarding other forms of drugs there may be honest differences of opinion as to the limits of legitimacy in the trade. If mendacious advertising were stopped, and the actual ingredients of every nostrum plainly published and frankly explained, the patent medicine trade might reasonably claim to be a legitimate enterprise in many of its phases. But no label of opium or cocaine, though the warning skull and cross-bones cover the bottle, will excuse the sale of products that are never sagely used except by expert advice. I believe that the Chicago method of dealing with the catarrh powders is the right method in cocaine and opium-bearing nostrums. Restrict the drug by the same safeguards when sold under a lying pretence, as when it flies its true colors. Then and then only will our laws prevent shameful trade that stupefies helpless babies, and makes criminals of our young men and harlots of our young women. (top)


 Overview and Related Links  
 Editorial:  "This Week" by Norman Hapgood
  The Great American Fraud, October 7, 1905

Ephemera Table of Contents


Great American Fraud: The Subtle Poisons, Dec. 2 1905, Part II
updated 4/13/2013