Medicine of the Past Was Almost As Bad As the Illness!

By | August 31, 2018

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City dwellers walking past advertising signs for 'Orzone Olive Oil Emulsion, a delicious tonic beverage unequaled for chest and nerve troubles, sleeplessness and indigestion'. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

It is big news today that the opioids found in some prescription medication is a contributing factor is drug abuse and overdoses. That leads many to ask “why would drug manufacturers put something so dangerous into their medicines?” The short answer is, because when used correctly, it offers benefits. The long answer is that the pharmaceutical industry has a lengthy history of producing medicine with questionable, ineffective, and downright dangerous ingredients. You won’t believe what people used to take in the name of medicine.

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Quack Pills, Patent Medicine, and Snake Oil

Sold as over-the-counter medicines in drug stores or, more often, by silver-tongued salesmen, ineffective, unproven quack medicine was commonly used by the people of the 1800s. Access to top-quality physicians was limited and everyday folk was just naive enough to believe the outlandish claims of the salesmen who hocked it from the town square. A good salesman would have fictitious testimonials from supposed users and endorsements from alleged “experts”…usually someone claiming to be a doctor, but who lacked a medical degree. Some liniment salesmen falsely claimed that their product contained snake oil, which they claimed was a cure-all remedy. The snake oil claim was so widespread that the term became synonymous with quack medicine.