Will second patent medicine era end in 2009?

Summary:The cure for today's patent medicine craze is universal health care. Let everyone back into the market and the pseudo market dries up.

Merchants Gargling Oil ad from the 1800sWe love to laugh about the patent medicine era, that time in the 1800s when salesmen went from town to town hawking fake remedies for what ailed people. (Picture from the Hagley Museum.)

That era is said to have ended early in the last century, following passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

The most popular cures remained around for decades, and some, most notably Coca-Cola, became consumer staples.

History needs to be revised and extended. A second such era has been rising under our noses. What started in health food co-ops has gone Madison Avenue in this decade.

Quack cures are readily available for impotence, for sleeplessness, and for general lethargy. As was the case in the 19th century, media companies have become dependent on this advertising.

With the collapse of the car companies, the failures in real estate, and the consolidation of banking, even our big-time cable outlets now prominently feature ads for patent medicines.

Alteril from Amazon.comWhile the first patent medicine craze was fought back, in part, through muckraking journalists, the fight in this second war is being driven by science itself, which has tried out the key ingredients -- vitamins -- and found them wanting.

Regulation was the ultimate solution to the first patent medicine craze, but this second craze has risen in regulation's shadow.

The craze is said to be driven by suspicion of regulators. In fact it's driven by people priced out of the regular medicine market.

The cure for today's patent medicine craze is universal health care. Let everyone back into the market and the pseudo market dries up.

 That's the goal of health care reform. Let the strength of the patent medicine market be the yardstick by which we measure it.

Topics: Software, CXO, Enterprise Software, Health, IT Employment


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.