November 21, 2019
In the 19th-century, druggists openly sold millions of bottles of opiate and alcohol-laced patent medicines for consoling fussy babies. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was one of the most successful, and lethal, potions on the market. It was linked to many child deaths.
“The history of American medicine and American pharmacy is just shockingly scary,” McCarthy told the Bangor Daily News.
McCarthy says the drugs were likely effective in tuckering kids out, but he adds any benefits gained from the drugs were not worth the risk of giving narcotics to babies.
“It was really very dangerous,” McCarthy said. “The thing you worry about with high-dose morphine is respiratory depression. Combine that with the alcohol, which is also a respiratory depressant, and it’s a really bad situation.”
McCarthy teaches a course at UNE about the history of American Pharmacy.
He recently gave a lecture about it to a packed room at the Waterville Historical Society. The audience was made up of his students and members of the public.
McCarthy began his talk by asking some quiz-type questions to prompt audience participation. During a question and answer session at the end, he discussed several issues, including the changing role of the pharmacist in patient care, the status of the current opioid crisis, and the cost of prescription drugs.
While at the Waterville Historical Society, students took some time to visit a replica apothecary, which houses an extensive collection donated by the LaVerdiere family. The LaVerdieres were well-known local pharmacists who had more than 70 drug stores throughout Northern New England.