The ‘Baby Killer’ Drug

It is a wonder that any of our ancestors survived childhood and then went on to have descendants, including you or me.

A 19th century ad for Winslow’s Soothing Syrup shows happy children and a resting mother. The morphine-laced patent medicine was invented in Maine and sold by Bangor druggist Jeremiah Curtis. It made him a millionaire and killed an unknown number of children.

In 19th-century America, druggists openly sold millions of bottles of opiate and alcohol-laced patent medicines for consoling fussy babies. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was one of the most successful — and lethal — potions on the market. It was linked to untold numbers of child deaths and the American Medical Association labeled it a “baby killer.”

You can read a lot more in an article by Troy R. Bennett in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News at


And then we used whiskey to relieve teething gums and cocaine-laced cough syrup. We had smoke-filled houses from coal and wood-burning furnaces and fireplaces. We ate rotting bread, meat, and vegetables. We ate undercooked and overcooked meat from any recognizable animal. Many families survived on the nutrients in home-made beer. We went months without baths. We had no vaccines and diseases wiped out whole families, unless some were lucky enough to be vaccinated by proximity.


    Quite right, Doris. It’s a wonder any of us are here at all! My granny always said that it was God’s way of keeping the population down so that the rest could still manage to live before there were too many people. Maybe she had a point?


Paragoric–tincture of opium–was sold over the counter when I was in high school in the mid 1960’s. My mother was born in 1920. Paragoric was used widely with babies to get them to sleep. One of the babies in her neighbourhood died because of an overdose. She used to put paragoric in my sister’s baby bottle in the mid-1940’s.
Not that long ago…


Leave a Reply

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: