Quackery, Claims and Cures - Elixirs of the Past - Opium

Fareed Tareen, Vaughn Ayroso, Manal Tareen, Mike Jaafar, Emily Kakos, Dina Kamel, Andrew I Spielman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Quackery in medicine is as old as medicine itself.
In times of crisis, desperate patients often believe
extraordinary claims. In the annals of pain-killer
quack medicine, elixirs, nostrums and liniments
hold a prominent position. NYU College of
Dentistry (NYUCD) has a collection of 234 bottles
of such medicines dating from the mid-1800s
through 1940. This paper is the second in a series
of articles featuring “Elixirs of the Past” in which we
bring to light five more samples containing opium:
Dr. B.J. Kendall’s Instant Relief for Pain, Dr. Munn’s
Elixir of Opium, Dill’s Balm of Life, Foley’s Pain Relief,
and Brown’s Instant Relief for Pain. These are just
five examples out of countless syrups, nostrums,
balm or liniments that contained narcotics and
were linked to overdose, addiction and sometimes
death. In 1906, Congress enacted The Pure Food and
Drug Act to stop unsubstantiated medicinal claims
and control the use of addictive substances. The
modern-day use of internet advertisements to make
unsupported claims is in some ways even more
brazen than the advertisements from a century ago.
Indeed, the recent widespread use of prescription
painkillers, along with the resulting epidemic in
opiate addiction that has caused upwards of 50,000
deaths is a case in point.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the history of dentistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • Opium
  • Patent medicine


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