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The Pharmacy Newsletter, Drugs in Crime

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In the early 1900s on the south side of Chicago at a local tavern called the Lone Star Saloon, a well-to-do customer walked in and ordered a drink. The bartender prepared the drink as usual, but covertly included William Garst HSan additional substance to it. He then nodded to the barmaid and prostitute, “Gold Tooth” Mary Thornton, who served it to the unsuspecting customer, who was soon rendered unconscious. He was then robbed, and other local patrons dumped him in the alley at the back of the Lone Star. After a considerable period of time the stranger woke groggy, confused, and unable to remember what happened. This scenario played out many times, but finally the saloon manager was caught. His name was Michael Finn (nicknamed Mickey) and the substance added to the drink was chloral hydrate. Thus, chloral hydrate knockout drops became known in American vernacular as the “Mickey Finn” or “Mickey” for short.

The story of chloral hydrate began many years earlier in 1832, when Justus von Liebig synthesized chloral hydrate in his laboratory. Von Liebig was a German scientist who made major contributions to agriculture and biological chemistry. He was one of the principal founders of organic chemistry and considered the “father of the fertilizer industry.”

Chloral hydrate is considered the first “sleeping pill” because it has very few actions other than causing drowsiness and sleep. However, more than being the first in the class of drugs known as hypnotics, it was the first completely synthesized and widely used drug. Presumably it never existed on earth in any form until it was made in the laboratory, and in the early 1800s this was a big accomplishment because up until that time all drugs were from a natural resource and no one believed that a chemical outside of nature would have effects on a living being.

In the 1850s it was discovered that chloral hydrate could be converted into a sweet-smelling liquid called chloroform, the fumes of which could render a person unconscious. The substance was used to sedate people for surgery because it could be administered by being inhaled into the lungs. However, it was difficult to use during surgery and too much could be given resulting in many accidental overdose deaths.

Chloral 

hydrate is a solid at room temperatures, but quickly dissolves in alcohol to form an easily administered liquid. Thus, during the 1800s chloral hydrate became a popular “party drug” and was known to be the first “date rape” drug.

Today chloral hydrate is still available but only as a compounded medicine (made in a pharmacy) from crystals because it is not produced commercially any longer by a pharmaceutical company. Barbiturates (phenobarbital) in the early 1900s, and benzodiazepines (Valium and Librium type drugs) in the 1960s replaced the use of chloral hydrate for use as sedation medications, though as late as the 1990s it was still used in hospitals to sedate children before a procedure. It is rarely used anymore, but when used must be compounded by a local pharmacy or hospital pharmacy.

In an earlier column I noted that the difference between a harmful substance and a beneficial medicine is the dose. Too much of the substance is harmful, but the right amount can have beneficial effects. In this case, the difference between a substance used for harm and a beneficial medicine is the intent of the use.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

*   *     *

William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007 he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016 he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at communitypharmacynewsletter@gmail.com.

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Email editor@

alachuatoday.com

In the early 1900s on the south side of Chicago at a local tavern called the Lone Star Saloon, a well-to-do customer walked in and ordered a drink. The bartender prepared the drink as usual, but covertly included William Garst HSan additional substance to it. He then nodded to the barmaid and prostitute, “Gold Tooth” Mary Thornton, who served it to the unsuspecting customer, who was soon rendered unconscious. He was then robbed, and other local patrons dumped him in the alley at the back of the Lone Star. After a considerable period of time the stranger woke groggy, confused, and unable to remember what happened. This scenario played out many times, but finally the saloon manager was caught. His name was Michael Finn (nicknamed Mickey) and the substance added to the drink was chloral hydrate. Thus, chloral hydrate knockout drops became known in American vernacular as the “Mickey Finn” or “Mickey” for short.

The story of chloral hydrate began many years earlier in 1832, when Justus von Liebig synthesized chloral hydrate in his laboratory. Von Liebig was a German scientist who made major contributions to agriculture and biological chemistry. He was one of the principal founders of organic chemistry and considered the “father of the fertilizer industry.”

Chloral hydrate is considered the first “sleeping pill” because it has very few actions other than causing drowsiness and sleep. However, more than being the first in the class of drugs known as hypnotics, it was the first completely synthesized and widely used drug. Presumably it never existed on earth in any form until it was made in the laboratory, and in the early 1800s this was a big accomplishment because up until that time all drugs were from a natural resource and no one believed that a chemical outside of nature would have effects on a living being.

In the 1850s it was discovered that chloral hydrate could be converted into a sweet-smelling liquid called chloroform, the fumes of which could render a person unconscious. The substance was used to sedate people for surgery because it could be administered by being inhaled into the lungs. However, it was difficult to use during surgery and too much could be given resulting in many accidental overdose deaths.

Chloral 

hydrate is a solid at room temperatures, but quickly dissolves in alcohol to form an easily administered liquid. Thus, during the 1800s chloral hydrate became a popular “party drug” and was known to be the first “date rape” drug.

Today chloral hydrate is still available but only as a compounded medicine (made in a pharmacy) from crystals because it is not produced commercially any longer by a pharmaceutical company. Barbiturates (phenobarbital) in the early 1900s, and benzodiazepines (Valium and Librium type drugs) in the 1960s replaced the use of chloral hydrate for use as sedation medications, though as late as the 1990s it was still used in hospitals to sedate children before a procedure. It is rarely used anymore, but when used must be compounded by a local pharmacy or hospital pharmacy.

In an earlier column I noted that the difference between a harmful substance and a beneficial medicine is the dose. Too much of the substance is harmful, but the right amount can have beneficial effects. In this case, the difference between a substance used for harm and a beneficial medicine is the intent of the use.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

*   *     *

William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007 he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016 he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Email editor@

alachuatoday.com