Prescription DrugsThe medical industry has undergone major overhauls throughout the course of history. Medicines have been discovered as cures for diseases once thought incurable. People are staying healthier and living longer and medical advancements are one of the reasons why.

Today, many commonplace practices wouldn’t have even been fathomed in the roaring 1920s. On the flip side, many of the norms from back in the day are now extinct. Trial and error helped lay the groundwork for modern medicine. However, the problem with that philosophy is that the stakes are incredibly high when it comes to medicinal trials. Dubbing the wrong substances as “miracle” cures can – and often did – have serious consequences.

What are Prescription Drugs?

Changes have been expansive in the prescription drug realm. Prescription drugs are medications patients must have written clearance to purchase. In the United States, medical professionals like nurse practitioners or physicians can authorize prescription drugs.

Laws to prevent prescription abuse have come into place over time, but keep in mind that just about any drug can be dangerous if used improperly. Here is a timeline of some of the biggest prescription drug headlines from the early 20th century to present day.


  • 1898 – Heroin is introduced. Interestingly, it wasn’t thought to be addicting at first. That turned out to be a mistake. It wasn’t long before health professionals, legislatures and the public called for its ban.
  • 1914 The Harrison Act comes into effect. It used IRS taxes on the sale and purchasing of narcotics to control abuse. The Treasury Department assigned the first narcotic agents to support and enforce the Act.(Enforcement of the act led to international drug smuggling in the 1920s.)
  • 1928 – Alcohol Prohibition: Doctors were able to write special prescriptions for alcohol, but prescriptions were often abused. Most of the alcohol wasn’t used for medical reasons, which led to a huge diversion in prescription medicine practices.


  • 1950 – In Alberty Food Products Co. vs. U.S., the United States Court of Appeals ruled the directions for use on a drug label must always include the drug’s purpose.
  • 1962 – Thalidomide, a widely-used sleeping pill, causes severe birth defects of the arms and legs in thousands of babies born in Western Europe. Reports of the birth defects raised public support for more stringent drug laws.
  • 1966 – The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act passes. It requires that all consumer products must have honest labeling about contents and side effects.
  • 1970 – The first patient package insert (required by the FDA) is issued. It requires that all medicines must come with patient targeted information about the risks and benefits of the medication.

 1980s-Present Day

  • 1982 – The FDA issues Tamper-resistant Packaging Regulations in efforts of preventing poisonings and deaths, such as those from cyanide placed in Tylenol capsules. Congress passes the Federal Anti-Tampering Act the following year, making it a crime to tamper with packaged consumer products.
  • 1995 – The FDA declares cigarettes to be “drug delivery devices.” This places limits and restrictions on marketing to young people in an effort to reduce smoking.
  • 2000 – The U. S. Supreme Court rules that the FDA does not have authority to regulate tobacco as a drug.

In the mid-1990s, the number of reports of prescription substance abuse and overdosing began to rise dramatically. The situation is still a major crisis in the United States today. However, these days, doctors are much less willing to prescribe prescription pain killers due to malpractice implications, and the safety of the general public.

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