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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 16, 2011

ANCIENT PROBLEMS OF PHARMACY AND THEIR WARNING

JAMA. 2011;305(7):722. doi:10.1001/jama.285.6.700

Most physicians of modern times would be quite sure, if they thought about the matter at all, that the pharmaceutic problems which prove so troublesome in our time represent abuses that have crept into medicine because of peculiar developments in the last few generations. Certainly very few would think that these problems—proprietary remedies and their abuse, substitution, counterfeiting of drugs, the use of long, imposing Greek names to make new compounds popular and impressive—were all features of a previous phase of medical history. In this matter the story of medicine at Rome during the early empire is particularly interesting. Social and economic conditions were not very different from ours; indeed, as the Italian historian Ferrero made very clear in his American lectures, they were in many ways remarkably like those of our day and country. If we bear this in mind, it is not so surprising to find that our problems in pharmacy resemble theirs so closely as to be almost a perfect replica. The value of history consists largely in the applicability of its lessons to the aftertime; unless we can see the fitness of the application, it becomes scarcely more than a tale that is told. The history of pharmacy, therefore, at Rome, has its special interest at this time.

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