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US Gov't Poisoned Alcohol During Prohibition

pickens (49171) writes | more than 4 years ago

Medicine 5

Hugh Pickens writes "Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Deborah Blum has an interesting article in Slate about the US government's little known policy to scare people into giving up illicit drinking during prohibition in the 1920's by poisoning industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States. Known as the "chemist's war of Prohibition," the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, killed at least 10,000 people by the time Prohibition ended in 1933. The story begins with ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the United States after high-minded crusaders and anti-alcohol organizations helped push the amendment through in 1919. When the government saw that its “noble experiment” was in danger of failing, it decided that the problem was that methyl alcohol, readily available as industrial alcohol, didn't taste nasty enough and put its chemists to work designing ever more unpalatable toxins adding such chemicals as kerosene, brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700. These numbers were repeated in cities around the country as public-health officials nationwide joined in the angry clamor to stop the poisoning program but an official sense of higher purpose kept it in place while lawmakers opposed to the plan were accused of being in cahoots with criminals and that bootleggers and their law-breaking alcoholic customers deserved no sympathy. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was "our national experiment in extermination.""

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Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death (1)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299484)

The way I see it the people who got poisoned got what they deserved, if they choose to brew their own hooch instead of taking the convenient industrial alcohol route they might of seen the atomic age.

Re:Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death (1)

russian_casey (954084) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299682)


History repeats (1)

PenisLands (930247) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299758)

We're seeing similar things today with cannabis. Cannabis itself is harmless, less harmful than alcohol even. Yet it's illegal and many people are arrested for cannabis use/possession each year.

Some dealers lace their cannabis with sand or ground glass in order to increase the weight (and therefore the perceived value). If we didn't have to do illicit dealings to get cannabis then cannabis would be less dangerous to use.

Back in the prohibition era, prohibition of alcohol caused more problems than it solved. The same is applies to cannabis today, but because cannabis is taboo and alcohol is widely acceptable, most people don't seem to realize, and the politicians continue to drone on about 'being tough on drugs' in order to gain votes, for example, Gordon Brown and his 'lethal cannabis' claim. And while they do this, I'll bet that they known in their hearts that the ban isn't helping at all. They don't care about the truth of the matter, they only want to look good in order to grab more votes. (1)

chmims (107828) | more than 4 years ago | (#31302434)

This is more than bizarre. Methyl alcohol is a poison by itself and unfortunately quite palatable and intially gives the same effects as ethyl alcohol. In an effort to stop people from drinking it and save their life other chemical were added to make it unpalatable. Some of them could be toxic too. Where is the story. Much less something that is worth a prize.

Thanks for publishing this story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31303398)

I appreciate it.

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