Specific Medicines.

Selected writings of John M. Scudder

Related entries: Good Medicines - A Third Study of Specific Medication.

The dearth of reliable medicines impelled Dr. Scudder to advocate office pharmacy. In the beginning of specific medication this was an absolute necessity. As time rolled on it was evident that while some could and would make a good medicine, others, by neglect or otherwise, would not. Hence the necessity of having them made by skilled pharmacists, and of having his labels copyrighted to protect against fraud. As an earnest of good faith he stood ready as sponsor for the integrity of such preparations, and thus came into use the Specific Medicines. See also editorial on "Good Medicines."—Ed. Gleaner.

SPECIFIC MEDICINES.—When I had determined that the time had fully come for the advocacy of "specific medication," I felt that the want of reliable medicines in the drug market would be the most serious obstacle I had to contend with. The drug trade had become so utterly demoralized, that it was difficult to find a good article or one not adulterated in the market, unless it was quinine or some chemical bearing the label of Powers & Weightman, and we could determine that the seal had not been tampered with.

A class of remedies peculiarly American, and peculiarly bad, called fluid extracts, had been introduced to take the place of the officinal tinctures that had served an honest purpose for hundreds of years. Thinking of the nastiness and the worthlessness of the fluid extracts of the olden time, we could safely indulge in a little old-fashioned cursing; and much of the fluid extracts of the market at the present time would bear it safely, and I think it would be no sin to "cuss" them freely.

The indigenous remedies which we take so much pride in were and are prepared in this manner, if there is any manner or method in their preparation. Made from old and imperfect stock, carried by drug-brokers, gathered at all seasons and at all places, and without reference to the character or quality of the article, we may expect to find every grade of worthlessness in these products of modern pharmacy.

I concede that here and there one will make a good "fluid extract," which is really a tincture prepared by percolation. There are houses which take a certain amount of pains in getting in good stock—full as much as they can afford for the price they obtain for their products. But what can you expect when from the published prices sent to you they discount 50, 60, and even 70 per cent to country drugstores? Inferior quality is guaranteed by the price. A cheap article can not be good.

If we are to have a certainty in the action of remedies, we must have certainty in their quality. With all or nearly all vegetable remedies it is necessary that they be gathered in the right season, in the right locality, and at once prepared as tinctures with the proper strength of alcohol. Some of these are prepared fresh, others may be partially or wholly dried, but always carefully handled. Of many the tinctures must be made at the time of gathering, and the medicine can only be kept in stock in this form. This necessitates a fair price for the article, and must of necessity prevent competition with the ordinary fluid extracts in the market.

To secure such a class of remedies I prepared a series of labels and copyrighted them, and offered them to any pharmacists who would conform to the above requirements. I asked that the crude article should be gathered at the right season, and the tinctures be prepared from the fresh article, the strength of the tincture being one troy ounce of drug to one fluid ounce of tincture.

But I did not propose to trust the pharmacist and druggist. The work on Specific Medication says distinctly that every physician should prepare some of the remedies of his neighborhood himself, and all the formulas of the book are for this office pharmacy. The reasons were clear—that if a physician interested himself to this extent, he would cultivate an interest in the subject; he would learn the physical properties of a good remedy, and he would not be nearly so liable to be swindled by the poor stuff of the market.

I take nothing back, and I say to-day, as I have said for a dozen years, "Keep your eyes open." Buy nothing, if you can avoid it, from the country drugstores; order medicines from the manufacturers; do not buy without a clear understanding that you want the class of agents named above, and with the agreement that if anything is unsatisfactory it may be returned at the sellers cost.

Whilst in office pharmacy eight ounces to the pint is as much as can be worked, a skillful pharmacist may give you double the strength; and as we wish to get our remedies in the smallest compass, because of convenience in carrying, buy the stronger articles. As we use them in such small doses there is no reason for cheapening them; rather let us keep the price up, if thereby we may secure trustworthy remedies. We have already lowered our drug bills one-half or three-fourths by having better remedies.

Let us say then, that remedies rightly prepared from fresh crude material, in the proper season, may be called "specific medicines" because we may expect certainty in their action. But we do not want the name applied to a fluid extract diluted with alcohol, or to a preparation made from dried and imperfect drugs as usually carried in stock.—SCUDDER, Eclectic Medical Journal, 1878.

The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.