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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

September 22, 2007 |  4:13 pm

Sept. 20, 1957

Paul_coates Yesterday, a Confidential File staff member went on a shopping tour.

His companion was a narcotic addict.

Together, they visited a few of this town's friendly druggists. And when they returned to my office, they brought with them enough dope to keep the addict from withdrawal convulsions for quite a while.

I'm sorry that a member or two of the State Senate Interim Committee on Narcotics --in town this week--didn't go along with them.

Because if one or two had, they would have learned that the problem here isn't a back-alley monopoly by pushers of marijuana and heroin.

It is as open as the door of your neighborhood drugstore.

As proof, I offer the bottles purchased by the addict and the File staffer. Among them:

Elixir of terpin hydrate and codeine.


The first can be purchased in any drugstore without prescription. So can dozens of other similar narcotic-containing medications.

The latter--Dexedrine--requires a prescription. But an Eagle Rock druggist decided that such red tape could be eliminated if the pair would be willing to pay a little extra.

They did, getting 30 10 milligram Dexedrine capsules for slightly more than $4 ($28.66 USD 2006).

The "shopping trip" was the addict's idea.

He telephoned me concerning it earlier this week.

"I'm going to break the habit," he told me. "I'm getting myself committed."

The caller was a young man, married, with two children. At one time, about nine years ago, he had a pretty good business, a new car and a new home.

It was heroin, he admits, which broke him. He got hooked through "friends." And in about two years, he found his $30-a-day need had melted away every one of his assets.

1957_0920_novita Out of money, he suddenly found that the pushers wanted nothing more to do with him.

Necessity was forcing him to kick the "H" habit down. It was tough, though, and he needed some sort of crutch--an inexpensive one.

He found it, on the drugstore shelf, available to anyone, any age.

It came in a bottle labeled:

"Elixir of terpin hydrate and codeine."

Price: one buck. No prescription necessary.

Each four-ounce bottle of "cough medicine" contains about a quarter of a gram of codeine, an opium derivative. Its alcohol content is 39% to 44%.

It's potent. And, as it understates on the bottle:

"Warning: May be habit-forming."

For the young addict, it has become a habit worse than "H."

"I shook heroin," he told me. "But this stuff I've tried to--and couldn't."

Today he averages about six bottles a day. That's roughly 15 grams of codeine.

And that is 50 times more than the recommended safe dosage of 30 milligrams.

I asked him what happened the half-dozen times he tried to kick it, or cut down.

"It's always the same. My eyes water, my nose starts running and then come the chills and convulsions.

"But how can you quit it," he shrugs, "when it's so easy to walk to a drugstore."

I checked on federal regulations regarding sale of the addict's "medicine." The regulations state that pharmacists may dispense it without prescription "provided the preparation is furnished in good faith, for medicinal purposes."

The law also states that druggists should have each customer sign his name and address when purchasing such drugs.

I asked the addict if he usually signed.

He laughed. Maybe one time in five, he said.

And he added:

"I've been picking up 15 to 20 bottles a week from the same Hollywood drugstore for a couple years.

"And a bunch of kids--lots of them teenagers--are doing the same thing."

If the State Senate committee is interested I'll be glad to supply the names of the Eagle Rock and Hollywood drugstores.