Legislation has recently been passed by the Congress and signed by the President regarding our opioid crisis, which has been called the health crisis of our times. The book I’ve written involves a history of opium usage and treatment in the United States dating from more than 100 years ago. The book also deals with the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Before Charles Towns, who was the actual King Charles of New York City, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin were all legal in this country. In 1914, the Harrison Act was passed by Congress that intended not to prohibit these substances but only to regulate their use by tracking their distribution through the use of prescriptions.
In an era of upcoming alcohol prohibition, however, there was a lot of fear. If alcohol was to be banned nationwide, the fear was that alcohol users would rush to use drugs. This potential reaction to alcohol prohibition was considered unacceptable and dangerous.
Up until passage of the income tax in 1913 and then the Harrison Act the following year, there had been no Federal police. That function was considered to be a function of the States. The opposition to the Harrison Act was based on some Senators believing that the legislation was unconstitutional because of the need of a police force to enforce the legislation.
Charles Towns was one of the originators of the thinking patterns behind the Harrison Act. He was the go-to-guy nationally that according to prominent medical doctors of the era knew more about addiction than any man alive. His advocacy in New York first led to legislation called the Boylan Act that was passed by New York the same year before the Federal Harrison Act modeled on the same ideas.
The U.S. Treasury Department, in conjunction with some sympathetic judges, read the Harrison Act and found a particular clause that ended up being used in a manner that the authors of the legislation never visualized. As a result of this clause, the Harrison Act was interpreted so that it became illegal for a doctor to prescribe opium and opium-derived substances (including cocaine, which is not an opium-derived substance) outside of the hospital setting. Doctors that didn’t comply became arrested and some were jailed. Mind you, many of the morphine addicts of the times were middle-aged Caucasian women introduced to morphine originally because of childbirth.
While a Constitutional Amendment was required to prohibit alcohol, no such comparable legislation was ever required to ban narcotics. The Treasury Department in conjunction with the courts accomplished that goal.
All of this activity was lost due to the fact that World War I was taking place. The headlines of the Lusitania or the battles in Europe simply grabbed all the headlines. Many of the most knowledgeable professionals treating addicts today have no idea how narcotics became illegal in the first place.
The hospital that Towns founded that eventually became mainly a sanitarium to treat alcoholics was originally founded to treat drug addiction. But treating drug addicts professionally became too dangerous and too despised.
Thus, I’m a believer that this book, if properly conceived and framed, has much potential and is very timely. The research and information provided is ironclad. Plus, even today, who would consider there to be a treatment center that faces Central Park in Manhattan? But that’s how many connections Charles Towns had, which included the support of Teddy Roosevelt’s personal physician. Today the former address of his hospital is surrounded by mansions, millionaires and museums.
Last but not least, Charles Towns claimed that if society listened to him, narcotic addiction could be eliminated nationwide once and for all! Had the country listened to Towns back then, would we have the opioid crisis of today?