Defeat Of The Foster Bill


The December sessions heard arguments in support of strict control of habit-forming drugs, and several members of the drug trades favorably inclined toward the Foster bill appeared at the hearings. After the Christmas recess the opposition was heard. A week before hearings were resumed, Wright came to New York to conciliate doubtful medical and pharmaceutical interests. The drug-trade leaders gathered at the home of Dr. William J. Schieffelin, president of the National Wholesale Druggists Association (NWDA) and a prominent member of various national reform movements.88 After this meeting, trade representatives hoped that modifications would be made in the bill. Druggists, however, continued their attacks. The Drug Trade Section of the New York Board of Trade came out in opposition to the Foster bill, which it now described as pleasing no one except Dr. Wright. The section also correctly predicted that no action would be taken during the last session of the 6ist Congress.89

Attitudes toward narcotic control varied considerably within the drug industry. Restrictions on small amounts of narcotics that could make a best seller out of an otherwise slow item (mainly proprietary medicines) were opposed by retail drug interests. Legislation that would permit sales of narcotics only to pharmacists was opposed by manufacturers of medicine exclusively for dispensing physicians.

On the final day of hearings, 11 January 1911, a message from the President was transmitted to Congress reiterating the obligation of the United States “to see that its house is in order before the International Opium Conference meets in The Hague in 1911.” Drafted principally by Wright, this Message on the Opium Traffic declared that enactment of the Foster bill was a “pressing necessity” as a consequence of drug abuse in the United States as well as American moral responsibilities undertaken before other nations.90

The House Committee on Ways and Means devoted the day to the Foster bill, providing the opportunity for the first extended debate before Congress between interests concerned with narcotic control. Opponents spoke first, then supporters. A representative of the NWDA, Dr. Charles West, began the attack. He opposed the inclusion of any drugs other than opium, morphine, cocaine, and their derivatives. Cannabis, he said, was not what might be called a habit-forming drug. He attacked the use of stamps and labels at every turn, arguing that additional help would be needed to separate orders, check inventories, and keep records; a tremendous financial burden would be placed on the jobbers and wholesalers. Proprietaries should be exempted as provided in many state laws. The word “knowingly” should be added for protection against an unintentional violation of the act. Dr. West felt the penalties were excessively severe. After a few other criticisms he endorsed the goal of the law, “but what we want is a simple law, one that can be enforced and will not inflict too much hardship on the trade.” 91 At the hearings of 11 January, Dr. West was questioned by Representative Francis Burton Harrison (future sponsor of the Harrison Narcotic Act), Harrison focused on cola soda pop. “What about this material they call Coca-Cola?” he asked the NWDA representative, “Isn’t it a habit-forming drink?” Dr. West agreed that it was a habit-forming drink and that perhaps Pepsi-Cola was in the same class. Rep. Harrison then stated that coca leaves should be included in the bill, since from them were made “Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola and all those things that are sold to Negroes all over the South.”

Representative Henry Boutell suspected that a strict law would create bootleggers and not solve the addiction problem. Harrison countered that if less were sold, the public would develop less of a craving and thus not have much need for the bootlegger. The chairman, Representative Sereno Payne, suggested one good result of elaborate and stringent provisions: “regulation … would … make it so unprofitable to sell the stuff [proprietaries] that wholesale druggists might go out of that line of business.” Dr. Schieffelin took a more positive view of the legislation. He wanted legitimate druggists to handle drugs with clean hands; bootleggers could have the other traffic. He made a sharp distinction between alcohol on the one hand and opiates and cocaine on the other; he considered the latter substances a great danger, leading probably to death and almost certainly to insanity. Agreeing with the critics who had spoken, he suggested that labeling requirements be replaced by a system of registry numbers which each transactor could place on the containers. He also supported some provision exempting proprietaries containing limited amounts of narcotics.

Charles Woodruff, a lawyer representing six large drug manufacturers, denied that the industry was thoughtless about public welfare: his firms had for years worked to keep morphine and later cocaine out of the hands of dope fiends and disreputable persons. Multiple regulations would just make “a goat out of the manufacturer. The welfare of this country depends on the welfare of the manufacturer.” Dr. William Muir of Brooklyn, speaking for the New York Pharmaceutical Association, showed the plight of the honest retailer. Cannabis, for example, was an ingredient of corn cures. Every time a corn cure was sold, the druggist would have to make a record of it. The druggists weren’t interested in helping collect statistics for future legislation, a goal suggested for the law. Dr. Muir warned the committee that retail druggists were now up in arms against the bill: only the day before five hundred druggists in Brooklyn had met and opposed the measure. He disputed estimates on prevalence of drug abuse. Declaring that education could control the problem, Muir pointed to a decline in the sale of cocaine, which he attributed to public enlightenment. Just because opium causes some harm, he argued, is no reason to stamp it out; one should think of the good it does in relieving pain. “A good many people are killed by automobiles: but there is [also] a good deal of pleasure gotten out of them,” he said. Representative Payne, in response to Muir, summarized the goal of federal legislation: not to limit opium’s pain-relieving uses but to eliminate the use of drugs “prepared to satisfy a habit.”

The American Pharmaceutical Association was represented by the chairman of its Committee on National Legislation, Henry B. Hynson. Amendments recommended by the association clearly illustrated its willingness to go beyond most drug-interest groups in the search for effective reforms. The association criticized the list of uncontrolled drugs as too short; it wanted synthetic drugs to be listed and heroin to receive specific mention. Hynson pinpointed some ambiguities in the bill’s definitions and further emphasized the association’s desire to have a strong law by warning the committee that if they added the word “knowingly” it would “envalidate the whole matter.” Yet, as regards the possible police powers of such an act, he added, the several states should retain control of the writers of prescriptions within their borders.

Charles B. Towns, operator of a drug and alcohol hospital in New York, also defended the Foster bill. Towns attacked the veracity of the witnesses representing the wholesalers, saying he could name names and cite instances of habitues’ purchases from the wholesalers. Towns opposed almost all stimulants. He greatly feared opium’s effects on the mind and body. Anyone could get addicted to morphine by taking 1/4 grain daily for three weeks, no matter what his character. Codeine was especially dangerous, and as for cannabis, “there is no drug in the Pharmacopoeia today that would produce the pleasurable sensations you would get from cannabis … and of all the drugs on earth I would certainly put that on the list.” Moreover, experience had convinced him that it was a habit-forming drug. He believed that federal and state laws must cooperate and complement each other in the control of habit-forming drugs. Although he had noted a decline in the use and sale of cocaine, he figured the legitimate need for the drug to be very small compared to the amount being sold in the United States. He agreed with pharmaceutical representatives that 50 percent of the addictions resulted from overzealous physicians who prescribed habit-forming drugs.

From the Bureau of Chemistry came Dr. Wiley and his assistant Dr. L. F. Kebler, who appeared with samples of narcotic-containing proprietary medicines including addiction remedies and infants’ soothing syrups. Some preparations were from physicians who operated opium-cure sanitaria or who sold bottled opium cures through the mail. Since these “cures” contained large amounts of narcotics, Dr. Kebler contested the wisdom of the druggists who wanted to exempt proprietaries from the general law.92

Dr. Wiley wanted a prohibitory law, but he would accept less. Caffeine should be added to the list, as well as acetanilid, antipyrene, and phenacetin. He belittled the contention that large firms could not keep accurate records of habit-forming drugs.

The drug trade’s chief requirements — provisions for exempt proprietaries, simple record keeping, and softer penalties — had to be met if federal laws controlling or monitoring the traffic in dangerous drugs were to be passed. Two weeks after the hearings, Representative Payne wrote to Huntington Wilson hinting that the Foster bill might not be acted upon in this last session of the 61st Congress because of the time pressure. He chided the delay caused by trying to decide who would be honored by introducing the bill — Mr. Mann or Mr. Foster.93

Wright remained optimistic, but the drug trades had won. The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record of February 1911 headlined the decision simply “Foster Bill Killed.” In his enthusiasm and political naivete, Wright had not taken into consideration the great threat his bill posed to everyday routine and sales in the drug trades. The Foster bill’s uncompromising provisions were impressive; not a milligram of a habit-forming drug would have been lost in the legitimate trade had this bill been passed and enforced. But such an altruistic bill could not be accepted by manufacturers and local druggists. Smoking opium could be denied to the Chinese, but babies were not to be protected from narcotized “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” or “Hooper’s Anodyne, the Infant’s Friend.”

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