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Thursday, 2 August 1906

Mr SPENCE (Darling) .- I can hardly conceive that there should be any difference of opinion as to the need for action such as is contemplated by the motion ; but, although the subject has been discussed rather fully, I wish to direct attention to a particular phase of it, in the hone that the Legislatures of the States will profit bv our example, as they did in connexion with the Commerce Act, and db their part towards the removal of a great evil. There are patent medicines1 made up on very effective formula, and I know that the chemists who had to make up the prescriptions of a leading medical man connected with certain friendly societies charged more for doing so than they charged for making up other prescriptions, because he was in the habit of prescribing proportions of patent medicines, holding them to be compounds of value. Such patent medicines, however, are very few. I believe, too, that the patent medicines which are harmful in themselves are also few. But the advertisements by which patent medicines are recommended tend to mislead the public, and there is associated with them an element of fraud. Mention has not been made during the discussion of the systematic manner in which the Australian people are raiued by American patent medicine firms. These firms often carry on business under the name of some doctor, whose prescriptions they profess to sell. These doctors may or may not have an existence; it is not worth any one's while to go to America to investigate the matter. The companies send out circulars, offering to those who receive them certain inducements to send back the addresses of friends or neighbours who may be suffering from any ailment given in an accompanying list. These lists are so comprehensive that scarcely any of the ills to which flesh is heir are omitted from them. When addresses have been secured in this way, cleverly -worded letters are sent out, for the writing of which special staffs are engaged. These' letters are calculated to appeal strongly to sensitive persons, and to excite their imagination in respect to their physical condition. By these means, a large sum of money is annually extracted from our people for the purchase of drugs and compounds, which are probably useless, and in many cases exceedingly harmful. No doubt, many of the compounds sold for internal as well as for external application contain large quantities of alcohol. The costly advertisements which appear in our newspapers, the pamphlets with which the country is flooded, and the scale on which the business of the patent' medicine companies is conducted, are indications of the immense profits which, must be made in the business, and, no doubt, a great deal of misery is caused to sensitive persons by descriptions of symptoms which make them think that they are suffering from diseases. The health of thousands is ruined, and their pockets emptied, by those who sell these much-vaunted cures. The practices of these firms are virtually fraudulent, and as such should be put down by law. What the honorable member for 'Barrier wishes to do is to enlighten the public. I hope that the Legislatures of the States will make it a misdemeanour to deceive the public in regard to statements the truth of which the average man cannot determine for himself. Very few persons are capable of analyzing a" patent medicine, and the average man cannot pay to have an analysis made for him. No doubt, the Australian public needs educating on the subject of drugs. There seems to be a wrong impression as to their value in 'securing health. I had some years of experience in hospital management, and am satisfied that many of the outdoor patients who came to be examined and prescribed for had practically nothing the matter with them. In some cases their discomfort may have arisen from having eaten too large a dinner on the previous day: I know that one medical man had the courage to tell many of his would-be patients that this was the case, but, as his outspokenness seemed likely to produce a diminution in the subscriptions, another doctor was procured, who used to prescribe largely what was practically only coloured water. He was able to run the 'hospital for twelve months at an average cost of 10 1/2d. per patient, indoor and outdoor, and, of course, the indoor patients were really sick. Those who got the coloured water were perfectly satisfied, and, no doubt, in conversation with their neighbours, enlarged upon the beneficial effects of the medicine given to them. I remember a case in which for years a lady received a bottle of medicine from the chemist every week, paying him 2s. 6d. for it. One day she called at the shop for it, and, as the chemist himself was out, the assistant made it up for her from the original prescription; but, on taking it, she became quite angry, and said that she had been given the wrong medicine. What she had really been having was something quite harmless. No doubt, many druggists' shops are licensed poison shops. Leading medical men admit that they do not believe much in drugs. They consider their use beneficial upon occasion, but condemn the practice of taking them generally. No doubt, if the public knew the ingredients of patent medicines, they would often refuse to buy them, because they would say, " We will not pay 2s. 6d. for what does not cost twopence to make." The results of investigations in the United States of America have proved that, in many instances, prescriptions are not properly made up by the chemists. Although the medical men who prescribe have ordered the use of certain drugs, these drugs are often not used, sometimes to the serious injury of the patient. However, as it is desired to take a vote on the question before the notices of motion are called on, I shall not prolong my remarks, although I should like to say a good deal more on the subject.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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