Thursday, January 31, 2013

Alcohol Poisonings During Prohibition

The Chemist's War The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences.
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
I did, however, remember the U.S. government's controversial decision in the 1970s to spray Mexican marijuana fields with Paraquat, an herbicide. Its use was primarily intended to destroy crops, but government officials also insisted that awareness of the toxin would deter marijuana smokers. They echoed the official position of the 1920s—if some citizens ended up poisoned, well, they'd brought it upon themselves. Although Paraquat wasn't really all that toxic, the outcry forced the government to drop the plan. Still, the incident created an unsurprising lack of trust in government motives, which reveals itself in the occasional rumors circulating today that federal agencies, such as the CIA, mix poison into the illegal drug supply. 
During Prohibition, however, an official sense of higher purpose kept the poisoning program in place. As the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1927: "Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified." Others, however, accused lawmakers opposed to the poisoning plan of being in cahoots with criminals and argued that bootleggers and their law-breaking alcoholic customers deserved no sympathy. "Must Uncle Sam guarantee safety first for souses?" asked Nebraska's Omaha Bee.

This is an interesting article about how the federal government poisoned industrial alcohol during alcohol prohibition.  To this day there are calls for the government to infiltrate drug trafficking organizations to poison supplies, thereby murdering thousands of users. It is only when these proposals are put into the proper historical context that the motivations of the authors become clear. These people want to kill drug users. They don't care who you are, if you are a good person, have children or others depending on you or whatever. If you use the "wrong" drugs you deserve to die, that's it. The following quotes were taken from a debate over alcohol prohibition in 1926. I wonder how many people would defend Wheeler today. In 100 years, how many people will still advocate poisoning the supply of opiates?

"The government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable, when the constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this alcohol is a deliberate suicide." Wayne Wheeler.

"Any man who takes a drink of alcohol today may be poisoned without a trial by jury, without anything, just be poisoned because he dared take it!" Clarence Darrow responding to Wheeler.


  1. I guess many will be commenting on this, specially the alcohol lovers and alcohol rehab centers. I guess this kind of enforcement, will bother many.

    1. It is ironic that so many people consider the "Noble Experiment" of alcohol prohibition a failure but do not extend the lessons to the prohibition of other drugs. Many, though not all, "treatment" centers are stuck in the notion of "hitting bottom" and implicitly support anything that makes using mind-altering substances more dangerous.

  2. I can say that there are just too many of those who are really hard headed and even if you show what might happen to them if they will continue abusing alcohol, they seem not to care.

    1. What is this spam? Did you even read the article? This has nothing to do with the pharmacology of alcohol or its "abuse". This is about the government deliberately poisoning the alcohol supply so that users would be discouraged from drinking "industrial" alcohol. The health and well-being of thousands were sacrificed so that the government could "send a message" that drinking alcohol is wrong. Talk about burning the village to save it.