Posts filed under ‘poisoning’

Quick Death for a Dime in Downtown

Up until the fall of 1906, an Angeleno could walk into a pharmacy downtown (or discreetly dispatch a messenger boy) without a doctor’s prescription and buy morphine, cocaine, opium, codeine, heroin, laudanum, carbolic acid or other potentially fatal poisons, packed for his or her convenience in nickel, dime, or 25 cent bags.

Image Credit: LA Times Historical Archive

Of course, many of these drugs were highly touted miracle ingredients in the elixirs of the day, thought to be so beneficial, in small doses, that they were suitable for children.

Image Credit: Addiction Science Network

But 1906 brought a slew of new ‘poison control’ laws, which required pharmacies to employ only registered pharmacists to dispense drugs, to maintain a “poison registry” of the names and addresses of customers who purchased medications deemed dangerous, and to refrain from dispensing such drugs without a prescription from a licensed physician. The laws were not strictly enforced until May of 1907, when a crusading Secretary of the State Board of Pharmacy by the name of Charles B. Whilden made a sweep through 33 drug stores in downtown Los Angeles and bought dope at 16 of them. 


At Wilson’s Pharmacy at 6th and Figueroa a young boy behind the counter sold Whilden carbolic acid; a few days later a young lady, presumably the boy’s mother, but no registered pharmacist, sold him laudanum.  Similar transactions occurred at Frank T. Rimpau at 355 North Main Street, F.J. Giese at 108 North Main Street, Los Angeles Pharmacy at 212 West Fourth Street, Angelus Pharmacy at 801 West Third Street, and many other downtown retailers. The pharmacies were fined $100 for each violation. Several of the owners argued at sentencing that if future regulations prohibited them from selling opiates they would have to close their doors, as these products accounted for more than half their total profits. 

In June Whilden continued his poison investigation in Chinatown, where he arrested four proprietors of opium dens, even though the dens were licensed  and the opium sellers paid a monthly fee of $25 to the city.

 

All offenders were released after payment of fines, and business returned to usual in the downtown dens of vice.

 

January 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm Leave a comment

Jake Will Cure Your Ache

When Mrs. Austin’s 13-year-old sister came to her complaining of cramps, big sis knew just what the doctor ordered: a healthy slug of Jamaica Ginger should make the pain, if not vanish, seem deliciously insignificant. The youngster was dosed, waited for relief, then complained anew. That’s when Mrs. Austin realized her mistake: the medicine she’d proffered was not Jamaica Ginger, but Arnica!

Convinced she had poisoned her sister and that the girl would surely die, Mrs. Austin telephoned for a doctor. Somehow the police were notified of a suicide at the address, and came to investigate. They found the crampy sister none the worse for wear for her dosing—which was a lucky break, since Arnica is rarely taken internally, and can cause illness or death–and Mrs. Austin most abashed.

 

(L.A. Times, May 28, 1896)

Jamaica Ginger has a long and fascinating history, in SRO Land and throughout America. A favorite remedy for pretty much anything that ailed you, this rocket-powered ginger jolt was packed to bursting with health-giving alcohol–around 150 proof.  All was well until the 18th Amendment was passed, and anti-drink regulators began requiring the addition of adulterants that made Jamaica Ginger, commonly and most affectionately called “jake,” taste horrible.

Many formulas were introduced in an attempt to produce a palatable, legal Jamaica Ginger recipe, among them Harry Gross’ and Max Reisman’s 1930 version, packed with delicious tri-ortho cresyl phosphate (TOCP), a plasticizer. Shortly after the new formula debuted, tens of thousands of jake drinkers began presenting at hospitals complaining of mysteriously drooping toes and other symptoms of paralysis. Upstanding citizens who had hitherto kept their benders on the down low were exposed by the easily recognized Jake-Leg Shuffle, a limp shared by many habitués of the concoction.

The poisonous formulation was soon discovered and taken off the shelves, but the damage had been done. While some jake abusers recovered, others suffered long term nerve damage.

For more on jake leg’s cruelties, and the syndrome’s role in the history of the Delta blues, see Dan Baum’s 2003 New Yorker feature (PDF download).

As for us, we’re sticking with Vernors!

 

September 11, 2009 at 6:48 am Leave a comment


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