The Harrison Act
The twentieth century saw the rise of the use of anti-alcoholic drugs in the USA (Erlen & Spillane, 2004). The latter included opium, morphine, or products from coca leaves, such as cocaine, which were becoming popular with the population. Additionally, after the Spanish war, the U.S. War Department took up the task of governing the Philippines. As a result, it inherited the governing system, which saw all narcotics addicts being licensed and provided with opium legally. A commission of inquiry was appointed under the leadership of the Right Reverend Brent to do research and give an alternative to the system that had been adopted by the Spanish government (Erlen & Spillane, 2004). After careful consideration, the Brent Commission gave a recommendation that narcotics should be subject to both international and national control. To be able to control the rising trend of anti-alcoholic drugs in the USA, Representative Francis Burton Harrison proposed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act that was approved in 1914 (Erlen & Spillane, 2004). This essay discusses the history and peculiarities of this law, its applicability to medical practice and the right of doctors to prescribe narcotic medicines to patients.
The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was a law that required all people who produced, imported, manufactured, compounded, dealt in, dispensed, sold, distributed, or gave away coca leaves or opium, their derivatives or salts to register with the internal revenue service, and a special tax was imposed on them (Engs, 2003). This Act was designed to control the use of narcotics by the population. All people who dealt in opium, coca leaves or their derivatives would be licensed by the government at a moderate fee. This Act was also aimed to enable the orderly marketing of narcotic drugs in little quantities over the counter, and in larger quantities through doctor’s prescription (Engs, 2003). According to the court interpretation of the law, doctors could prescribe narcotics to their patients during normal medical treatment excluding the management of addiction (Engs, 2003).
During the enforcement of the law, the provision that was meant to protect physicians using opium or coca leaves in the treatment of their patients was found to have an exception. The latter stated that doctors could use narcotics only in the course of their professional practice (Engs, 2003). It meant that they could not give prescriptions to addicts for the latter to continue maintaining their addiction. The argument brought forward for this interpretation was that since addiction was not a disease, the addicted person was not an addict. Hence, any narcotics should not be given to him/her in the course of professional practice of the doctor. Therefore, the law that was meant to control the market of opium, coca leaves, and their derivatives was transformed to prohibiting their supply to addicts even when prescribed by the physician (Engs, 2003).
This Act had several effects on the population, especially on physicians who were at the center of prescribing narcotics. First, any doctor who supplied opiates to people who had developed addiction was arrested by the police, and some were even sent to jail. In the case of Webb v. the United States (1919), the court ruled that health practitioners could not give prescriptions to patients solely for maintenance purposes (Kandall, 2001). Due to the arrest and imprisonment of physicians who broke this law, others did not supply opiates for addicts. As a result, the circulation of narcotics decreased within the population. Crime related to addiction began to rise in the country, because the government sought to instill even sterner laws. The Harrison Act was tightened, and in 1924, heroin importation for all purposes was banned in the USA (Kandall, 2001). Moreover, the government continued to develop other laws that had the effect of decreasing opium addiction. Additionally, due to restrictions outlined by the Act, black market trade on narcotics began to grow. To meet the demand for drugs, various groups began smuggling opium, coca leaves and their derivatives into the country through the sea and across the Canadian and Mexican borders (Kandall, 2001).
The implementation of the Harrison Act faced one challenge only. Before the case of Linder v. United States (1925), the Act was used to prosecute doctors who made prescriptions to addicts of narcotics. However, in the case above, its applicability to this group was challenged (Erlen & Spillane, 2004). In 1925, it was ruled that the government did not have the power to control medical practice, and the Act was not used against doctors again (Erlen & Spillane, 2004).
In conclusion, during the twentieth century, the government managed to control the flow of narcotics in the USA pursuant to restrictions and the law enacted in 1914 known as the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Initially, its role was to regulate the market, but it became the basis for preventing doctors from issuing prescriptions to opium addicts. Several effects followed the enacting of this law. The supply of opium, coca leaves, and their derivatives decreased. As a result, violence incited by addiction started to rise. Additionally, the black market for drugs became to grow. Opium was smuggled through the borders and the sea into the United States. However, the implementation of the Harrison Act was challenged in 1925 in the case of Linder v. the United States, where it was ruled that the government did not have the power to control medical practice and the use of narcotic drugs by doctors.