Prohibition & the medicinal use of alcohol (1921)

prohibition-Bottles and barrel of confiscated whiskey

Medicinal use of alcohol

American Medical Association veers from former opposition – New York County Society silenced

To the Editor of The Tribune,

Sir: Medical, pharmaceutical and chemical organizations, as well as individual medical men of prominence in this city, are protesting the passage of the bill supplemental to the Volstead act as destructive to medicine, chemical science and industry in this country.

At the recent meeting in Boston of the American Medical Association, the House of Delegates refused to reaffirm a decision of this body made in 1917. This decision was to the effect that alcohol had neither value as a food nor merit as a remedy in disease. On the other hand, resolutions were introduced at this meeting in the section on pharmacology and therapeutics, where this subject properly belongs, declaring that this act would nullify the right of the physician to prescribe in accordance with his knowledge and his judgment and would substitute for his qualifications and experience the provisions of a statute laid down by a lay body.

While these opinions are being openly proclaimed at this time, one of the most influential and representative medical organizations in the country, the Medical Society of the County of New York, is debarred from discussing this subject. This situation had been brought about by what The Medical Record calls a “curious error.” This error, so called, is founded on the decree of the comitia minora after consultation with counsel that: “The Volstead act deals with the regulation of intoxicants used for beverage purposes and not with alcohol used for therapeutic purposes, and therefore does not come within the jurisdiction of the society.” Commenting on this decision, The Medical Record says: “Of course, both the Volstead act and the proposed amendment do deal specifically with the medicinal use of alcohol, and it is incomprehensible that the counsel should have made such a statement or that the members of the comitia should have been willing to accept the responsibility for publishing it.”

Meanwhile, the Medical Society of the County of New York, which is on record, as well as the American Medical Association on this subject, is prevented from voicing its opinion during this crisis in medical affairs. It may be stated that it was for the purpose of reaffirming the stand previously taken by the Medical Society of the County of New York that this matter was again brought before the society on April 25.

Under the recently adopted constitution of the society no matter can be debated at the time of its introduction except by consent of the president. All business, however pressing, must await the decision of the comitia minora. In this instance this body reported its findings one month after the resolutions in question were presented. The attitude previously taken on national prohibition and the Volstead act by the Medical Society of the County of New York was to the effect that as far as these measures related to medical practice they were: “Irrational, unscientific and against the accepted usage of civilized countries everywhere else throughout the world.” They were also condemned as “permitting the sale of patent and proprietary alleged medicinal compounds containing alcohol in varying amounts, while denying the use of spiritous, vinous and malt alcoholic beverages of proved therapeutic worth.”

John P. Davin, M.D.
New York, June 24, 1921

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