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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jul 1931

Vol. 14 No. 24

Pharmacopoeia Bill, 1931—Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: That Section 2 stand part of the Bill.

We all know that pharmacopoeia merely means a list of drugs, the strength at which they can be administered, and their qualities. It is very necessary for every apothecary and chemist in the country to have that list. It is the standard by which drugs are administered. I may say that the pharmacopoeia does not cover the amount of drug consumption in this country, even to the extent of one-third. The drugs in daily use in Ireland are not mentioned in the British Pharmacopoeia. We are all aware of the extent to which proprietary and patent drugs are used. As I have indicated, the amount of drugs consumed in Ireland is far greater than the whole contents of the British Pharmacopoeia. These drugs are more or less in the nature of luxuries. Let me mention, for example, people who go to church with a handful of aspirin tablets. Of what are these aspirin tablets composed? They are composed largely of derivatives of white willow. There are farmers in England who raise the common foxglove, which is called digitalis, and it is included in the British Pharmacopoeia. It is sold under dozens of different names, and is one of the ingredients in the best heart tonics. The best heart tonics depend really in the end on digitalis. It may be called cardio-something or another, but it is really composed of digitalis.

I believe that there should be something in the nature of a tax imposed upon proprietary drugs that enter this country, and some effort should be made to encourage the growth locally of medicinal herbs.

At the moment foxglove is growing wild on the hills. There are other things growing in old-world gardens throughout the country and they are used under different names to make up drugs. There is no reason why those drugs should not be manufactured in our own country. Quinine, of course, comes from a foreign country, but many other ingredients could easily be raised in Ireland. It would require only about twelve acres to supply the needs of the whole country. If we make some effort in this direction we may be able to get some immensely rich chemical firms, almost as extensive as Guinness's Brewery, to establish a factory on the lines Players Tobacco Co. followed in this country. Such a factory would give employment to many hands, including chemists. Perhaps the Government would consider the advisability of imposing a tax on imported drugs, the ingredients of which could easily be grown here.

The title "pharmacopoeia" comes from the Greek word , meaning poison. There are amongst the poisonous commodities imported such things as "tonic wines." Stale port stabilised by quinine is sold at perhaps two or three times the ordinary price of port which did not happen to grow sour. These sales do a great deal of damage, even to the teetotaller who eludes his self-imposed law by resorting to tonic wines. Such wines are kept fresh by means of preservatives. Even our "purest" bread contains many chemicals. I wish these things were made the subject of a review by the Minister with the object of taxing them out of the country. The articles that are injurious and poisonous could be taxed out without very much disadvantage to the people.

I suppose there must be at least one million pounds' worth of aspirin consumed by people who do not require it. It is a mild sedative, and it is really obtained from what we know here as the wild sally. Instead of for the purpose of weaving baskets, the sallies might be used to better advantage in this country. One or two postgraduate chemists could establish a laboratory and produce, with the aid of sallies, as much aspirin as this country requires. The magic word "aspirin" is another name for salicylic acid, and the whole thing is derived from the ordinary willow. The doctors in this country use German, French, American and Dutch drugs because they are made under standard conditions and in accordance with the latest discoveries.

In Sandymount we have the smallpox anti-serum. That is one thing that is kept in the country, but there are thousands of other serums prepared by German laboratories and laboratories in other countries, and they are much better than anything that could be made at the present moment in a chemist's shop in Dublin. I do not suggest that we should interfere with those imported serums. As regards the crude things, like foxglove, lily of the valley, and ordinary willows, it is remarkable that some effort is not made to utilise them in the way in which they are utilised elsewhere. I would like the Minister to take serious notice of the matters to which I have adverted. If some effort were made in the way of taxing certain drugs that are imported it might result in the establishment of a factory here.

This particular matter arises only in an oblique way on this Bill. Nevertheless it is well to hear about it. The Bill proposes that, while the British Pharmacopoeia will be the Saorstát Pharmacopoeia, the Medical Council in this country can either add to or subtract from it in any way they desire. We have a Medical Council here and they will have certain responsibilities with regard to the Saorstát Pharmacopoeia. The Council will be given all the power it requires. At the present moment the pharmacists are considering the draft of a Bill which the Parliamentary draftsman has prepared. That Bill, when it is put through the Oireachtas, will regularise and control the pharmacists as a profession. I must say that, so far as the Department is concerned, we would like to co-operate with the Medical Council, the pharmacists or any other body, not only in dealing with the medicines that people use or misuse, but even in relation to the foods they use, with a view to seeing that not only is there proper medical treatment of people whenever anything goes wrong, but that there is proper nutrition selected by the people to keep them in a condition of ordinary health.

There are, perhaps, many things wrong with our policy in regard to the national utilisation of food just as there are, perhaps, in regard to the national utilisation of medicines, and this subject might very well be looked at from an up-to-date scientific standpoint. I think it is the organised medical profession that will have to take the initiative in pointing out the lines upon which any changes ought to be made. The Department can simply co-operate with the organised professions in advancing along any approved lines that the profession may have in mind. I think even the Farmers Union might take up the question whether the foxglove growing in the country might not be utilised and whether we might not protect the home market.

I would like to refer to the Minister's statement with regard to a Pharmacy Bill which aims at regularising the pharmacy profession. I hope that those engaged in drawing up the Bill will regard it as a profession. It is dissimilar to the Dentists Act and the Veterinary Surgeons Bill in this respect, that if the qualified pharmacists are not regarded as a profession you will have multiple shop syndicates over here. They will represent mass production drug factors here, and they will wipe all the professional element in the distribution of high-class drugs out of business in Ireland.

Sections 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, the Schedule and the Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment. Report Stage fixed for Thursday, 2nd July.