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Narcotics for Babies

To help the over-stressed 19th-century mother, a series of “soothing syrups,” lozenges and powders were created to ease the pain of teething and other painful maladies for infants. The most popular of these was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Children Teething. Labeled as “an invaluable medicine for children”, must have sounded great but during that era, people failed to recognize or were unaware of its highly dangerous ingredients. These “soothing syrups” were comprised entirely of narcotics in high doses.

The ingredients were a combination of morphine sulphate, chloroform, morphine hydrochloride, codeine, heroin, powdered opium, and cannabis indica.

On December 1, 1860, the New York Times ran an article touting the benefits of the medicine by featuring letters of endorsement from parents:

MRS. WINSLOW’S SOOTHING SYRUP FOR CHILDREN TEETHING. LETTER FROM A MOTHER IN LOWELL, MASS. A DOWN-TOWN MERCHANT.

DEAR SIR: I am happy to be able to certify to the efficiency of MRS. WINSLOW’S SOOTHING SYRUP…Having a little boy suffering greatly from teething, who could not rest, and at night by his cries…its effect upon him was like magic; he soon went to sleep, and all pain and nervousness disappeared. We have had no trouble with him since…Every mother who regards the health and life of her children should possess it.

Of course babies would stop crying with all those narcotics pulsing through their tiny systems, anyone would. Unfortunately what the parents ended up with were drug addicted babies running the risk of death from overdose.

It wasn’t for another 50 years that the New York Times changed their position on the medicine. They published an article in 1910 (available here) listing the dangerous ingredients of the “soothing syrups” and urging all to stop the “systematic doping of the delicate organisms of infants with these subtle and powerful drugs…” and should only be obtained from a doctor because of their “habit-forming” effects. One generation’s salvation is another’s nightmare.

(Source: The New York Times)

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