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122
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

CORRESPONDENCE.
 

DOCTORS AND THE OPIUM-HABIT.

Editor Popular Science Monthly:

IN the September number of "The Popular Science Monthly," Mr. Virgil G. Eaton makes the following statement in his article on "How the Opium-Habit is acquired": "The parties who are responsible for the increase of the habit are the physicians who give the prescriptions. . . . Opium effects immediate relief, and the doctors, knowing this, and wishing to stand well with their patients, prescribe it more and more. Their design is to effect a cure. The result is to convert their patients into opium-slaves. The doctors are to blame for so large a consumption of opium, and they are the men who need reforming" (p. 666). While there may be exceptional cases where physicians are responsible for a patient acquiring the opium-habit, this charge against the entire medical profession is unjust and misleading. No class of men is better acquainted with the dangers due to a prolonged use of opiates than the medical practitioners, but it does not follow that a knowledge of the fact should lead any one of them to abandon the use of this valuable anodyne in suitable cases. No physician will question Mr. Eaton's statement that opiates are prescribed very frequently. If Mr. Eaton had taken the trouble to inquire from physicians why this is so, he would probably have ascertained that a large number of patients suffer considerably during their sickness, and that, to alleviate these sufferings, and give the patients the best chances for recovering their health, opiates arc often prescribed, and not merely because the physician wants to "stand well with his patient," or even to "effect a cure." Surely, no honest practitioner would be brutal enough to withhold an anodyne to relieve the intense pain due to a "stone in the gall-duct" (and if it were in Mr. Eaton's personal gall-duct), provided the anodyne caused no other serious injury. In this case the anodyne is not given to "effect a cure," but to permit the passage of the stone through the duct with less pain to the proprietor of the duct than were possible without the drug.

While putting the responsibility for the opium-habit on the physicians, Mr. Eaton says (p. 665), "From a conversation with a druggist, I learned that the proprietary or 'patent' medicines which have the largest sales were those containing opiates." While Mr. Eaton's article proves his knowledge of the practice of medicine to be very limited, he can hardly be ignorant of the fact that the members of the medical profession have been and arc to this day warning their patients and the public against the use of all nostrums. This is done by physicians, not for selfish purposes, as Mr. Eaton probably thinks, but because they have some thought for the health and well-being of their patients.

Immediately after telling us that the doctors are the men who need reforming, Mr. Eaton gives us two means for preventing the opium-habit. Here we find that he does not mention the method of reformation, but recommends that the renewal of prescribed medicines containing opiates, without the consent of the physician, be prohibited. Now this is a very good recommendation, but, as "there is nothing new under the sun," so this suggestion is not original. A perusal of medical literature would demonstrate that the medical profession, as individuals, and through their associations, have for years past protested and advised against renewing prescribed medicines without the physician's consent. They would not, however, have it limited to opiates, but have it apply to all medicines, for very good and not solely selfish reasons. After such good advice from Mr. Eaton, it is a great disappointment to find in the second and last suggestion that again no method of reforming the doctors is given, but here he mentions the very good but not always practical preventive for the opium-habit is not to get sick. True, Mr. Eaton does not put it in these words, but it is practically the same as to say: "Avoid sickness by living according to the laws of health. If you are not sick, you will not require medicine; and if you don't take medicine, you will not become a victim of the opium-habit."

After so clearly showing that "patent" medicines, and the druggists, who so willingly refill prescriptions, are to a very great degree responsible for the alarming increase of the opium-habit, Mr. Eaton's charges against the physicians are entirely out of place.

A. F. Stifel.
Wheeling, W. Va., August, 29, 1888.
 

 

OUR ASTRONOMY CLASS.

Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In Chapter IX of "Prince Otto," by Robert Louis Stevenson, better known to fame as the author of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the hero goes to an appointment with the countess, "as the bell beats two" in the morning. At this hour, we are told, "a shaving of new moon had lately arisen; but was still too small and too low down in heaven to contend with the immense host of lesser luminaries, and the rough face of the earth was drenched with starlight."