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Source: Papers On Health
The delusion that health can be restored by swallowing
drugs is so widespread that we think it well to quote the following
wise words from the Lancet:--
"An eminent physician not long deceased was once giving evidence in a
will case, and on being asked by counsel what fact he chiefly relied
upon as establishing the insanity of the testator, replied without a
moment's hesitation: 'Chiefly upon his unquestioning faith in the value
of my prescriptions.' It might perfectly well be contended that this
evidence failed to establish the point at issue, and that faith in the
prescriptions of a physician hardly deserved to be stigmatised in so
severe a manner. But admitting this, there is still little to be said
in favour of the sagacity, even if we admit the sanity, of the numerous
people who spend money and thought over the business of physicking
themselves, and who usually, if not indeed always, bring this business
to an unfortunate conclusion. The whole tendency of what may be called
popular pharmacy during the last few years has been in the direction of
introducing to the public a great variety of powerful medicines, put up
in convenient forms, and advertised in such a manner as to produce in
the unthinking, a belief that they may be safely and rightly
administered at all times and seasons, as remedies for some real or
supposed malady. All this, of course, has been greatly promoted by
column after column of advertisement in magazines and lay newspapers;
but we are compelled to admit that the medical profession cannot be
held free from some amount of blame in the matter or from some
responsibility for the way in which drugs have lately been popularised
and brought into common use as articles of domestic consumption.
Medical men have failed, we think, sufficiently to impress upon the
public and upon patients that the aim of reasonable people should be to
keep themselves in health rather than to be always straying, as it
were, upon the confines of disease and seeking assistance from drugs in
order to return to conditions from which they should never have
suffered themselves to depart. The various alkaline salts and
solutions, for example, the advertisements of which meet us at every
turn, and which are offered to the public as specifics, safely to be
taken, without anything so superfluous as the advice of medical men,
for all the various evils which are described by the advertisers as
gout or as heartburn, or as the consequences of 'uric acid,' do
unquestionably, in a certain proportion of cases, afford temporary
relief from some discomfort or inconvenience. They do this
notwithstanding persistence in the habit or in the indulgence, whatever
it may be, the over-eating, the want of exercise, the excessive
consumption of alcohol or of tobacco, which is really underlying the
whole trouble which the drugs are supposed to cure and which at the
very best they only temporarily relieve, while they permit the
continuance of conditions leading ultimately to degeneration of tissue
and to premature death. This is the moral which it is, we contend, the
duty of the profession to draw from the daily events of life. The
natural secretions of the human stomach are acid, and the acidity is
subservient to the digestive functions. It cannot be superseded by
artificial alkalinity without serious disturbance of nutrition; and the
aim of treatment, in the case of all digestive derangements, should be
to cure them by changing the conditions under which they arise, not to
palliate them for a time by the neutralisation of acid, which may,
indeed, give relief from present trouble, but which leaves unaltered
the conditions upon which the trouble really depends. Those who look
down the obituary lists of the newspapers will be struck by the fact
that large numbers of people, in prosperous circumstances, die as
sexagenarians from maladies to which various names are given but which
are, as a rule, evidences of degeneration and of premature senility,
while many who pass this period go on to enter upon an eighth or ninth
decade of life. The former class, we have no doubt, comprise those who
have lived without restraint of their appetites, and who have sought to
allay some of the consequences thence arising by self-medication, while
the latter class comprises those who have lived reasonably, and who, if
annoyed by imperfect digestion, have sought relief by ascertaining and
by abandoning the errors from which it sprang."
Among the most pernicious and dangerous of all the patent medicines on
the market are the so-called "Headache Powders," whose almost
instantaneous effects testify to the potency of the drugs they contain.
Such powerful agents carry their own condemnation, for they cannot in
the nature of things remove the cause of the pain; hence their action
is limited to narcotising the nerves. The disease continues, the damage
goes on, but the faithful sentinels are put to sleep. These headache
powders so increased the deaths from heart failure in New York City a
couple of years ago that it became necessary to warn the public against
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