Pharmacies: 1950s vs. Now

When did the modern pharmacy come about? Merck claims they’ve been mass-producing drugs for 50 years. Ok, in the 1950s, IIRC, the cure for polio was discovered, immunization was in its infancy, insulin was just isolated, and the DNA model was unveiled. So, what could pharmacies (and Merck) be providing in those years? Besides Coca-Cola cure-alls, that is? For one, was aspirin OTC?

I’m curious about how pharmacies have grown up since 1950-1955, and is Merck gilding the lilly here? - Jinx

In the 50’s: Steroids, antibiotics, barbiturates, Miltowns, Librium, digitalis, benzedrine, thalidomide, lithium, thorazine, imipramine; all sorts of good stuff.

And, I thought I heard hospitals back then couldn’t administer anything more than a saline (or a sugar) drip I.V…when it came to I.Vs, that is.

So, when did the modern day pharmacy come into existance, and…how much was ready-made vs. compounded by the pharmacist him/herself? - Jinx

Maybe the point of my last post is lost, but I didn’t think pharmacies had so much to offer while (from what I was told) hospitals had so little to offer, or so it may have seemed to those who lived it and shared with me… - Jinx

In the fifties, doctors wrote prescriptions. People got the prescriptions filled at drug stores. Same as now. At some point since the fifties, we shifted from calling them drug stores to calling them pharmacies. Probably because “drug” had come to seem to be a “negative” word.

But, it should be pointed out, most of these were sold by prescription only, just as they are today.

But there once was a time when heroin was sold over the counter, and aspirin was sold by prescription.

Oh, you would not believe some of the things that were OTC in the '50s. Aspirin for sure.

For instance–and I am getting this information from my baby book, which would not have lied–as an infant I had colic (i.e., unexplained annoying crying). My father was dispatched to the pharmacy to procure paregoric which was given to me, at the tender age of 4 weeks, and apparently, it put me to sleep!

My understanding is that this was a relatively common occurrence. No wonder we ‘50s’ babies got all psychedelic a couple of decades later.

On the other hand a lot of things that are OTC now, like Actifed and Sudafed, required a prescription then.

[tangent]“Heroin” was a brand name–not in the '50s, though, much earlier. Also earlier in the century there was a marijuana extract that was considered beneficial for menstrual cramps and other difficulties[/tangent]

Another treatment–and this may have been by prescription, I don’t remember–was something called “sugar of lead” for poison ivy (maybe itchiness in general but poison ivy was what was specifically being treated). It was a white ointment, allegedly quite poisonous when taken orally but apparently okay, and quite effective, when put on poison ivy welts.

Information collected from family members who were pharmacists, past and present. Pharmacists did a lot more compounding, for instance among our family artifacts is a pill mold, for pressing pills, but there were still brand-name prescription drugs that must have been mass produced, along with OTC things like Carters Little Liver Pills (no idea what those did), remedies for insomnia. vitamins, diet aids, Ex-Lax, Preparation H, Midol, etc. It is possible (but a source of argument) that pharmacists of the past were consulted more often about treatments that could be obtained without a prescription than they are today. They are still asked, but today’s questions are more on the order of, “Can I put this ointment on my kid’s eye for a sty?” and the answer is usually, “Check with his doctor.”

According to the ads, they were good for treating “headaches, biliousness, torpid liver, constipation and indigestion.”

In the 50s, common presecriptions included antibiotics, sulfa drugs, and tranquilizers. There were also prescriptions for drugs that have been replaced by newer drugs.

Most narcotics were only available by a prescription, with the exception of codeine, which was available over the counter as a cough medicine. Once dextromethrophan became available, codeine was phased out and made by prescription only. Cough medicine in the 60s used to stress they were “non-narcotic” as a selling point.

Aspirin was OTC by the 50s; drugs like Motrin were originally by prescription, but were eventually made OTC in the 80s, IIRC. Thalidomide was never legally sold in the US (the FDA never approved it), though it was available by prescription in other countries.

Also, by the 60s, at least, Carter’s Little Liver Pills had changed their name to “Carter’s Pills,” as the FDA determined it did nothing for the liver. They were primarily a laxative, not uncommon for patent medicine.

This is likely a matter of state and local regulation. Pharmacists that I work with know pretty much all the same things about their OTC drugs as they do any other medications, and they do routinely answer those questions for patients informatively.

I wonder how regional this is. At home in SE Michigan, the drug store is the store. The pharmacy is a prescription drug-dispensing section within any store – grocery stores (we don’t just call them “groceries”) have pharmacies. Any time I hear someone say “I’ve gotta go to the pharmacy” I imagine they need prescription drugs. Otherwise the common thing to say would be “going to the drug store.”

Central Michigan. “Pharmacy” definitely suggests a specific part of the store, but a store whose primary fixture is a pharmacy counter counts as a “pharmacy” to me. I’d call a store that mostly only sells drugs a “pharmacy” or a “drug store” interchangeably. But I wouldn’t really use “pharmacy” to refer to a place like Rite-Aid, since they’re rapidly approaching the size of grocery stores.

I think I have a continuum from drug store - to refer to the largish stores that sell drugs, personal care items, and convenience foods - to pharmacy, which means a very small store or a pharmacy counter within a larger business. I get my prescriptions at a local pharmacy that sells basically nothing but OTC and prescription drugs. (They have great service.)

Wasn’t there a time in US consumer history when a shopper had to go to a drug store for soap, shampoos, hair care products, etc.? As in, before the advent of supermarkets?

Merck also provides chemicals used in manufacturing loher than drugs .

Paul Fussell would probably assert that people say “pharmacy” instead of “drugstore” because it has more syllables and sounds grander, following a general trend of linquistic puffery. Given the number of drugstores that call themselves “Drug King”, “Super Drug”, “Drug Town”, and any of a number of similar names, I’d say that the reluctance to use the word “drug” is slight to none.

Weren’t amphetamines OTC at one time? When were benzedrine inhalers banned?

My pharmacist gets bothered when I inform him that I’m there to score 100 hits of cheap hydrochlorothiazide.
We obtain rather than score medications at pharmacies. Medications don’t come in ‘hits’, they come as pills. They are never cheap, although some are inexpensive.

The modern supermarket concept is attributed to Clarence Saunders and his “Piggly Wiggly” franchise that started in 1914. Before then housewives could give a grocery list to agents who would deliver to the home.

Drug stores back then are like drug stores now…Walgreen’s supplies soaps and shampoos, but you can get a bigger selection and (probably) lower prices at the food markets.

My dad owned and operated a small town drug store from 1948 to 1960. The pharmacy was located in the back and a lot of compounding went on. I recall watching one of the pharmacists mix and grind powders and then fill capsules.

When I got sick dad would come home with a vile blue-green liquid that looks and tastes like Nyquil but was labeled Pyrabenzamine. All I know is it was an antihistamine that isn’t used much anymore because it can be habit forming.

Is Rexall still around?

I was a child of the 1970s and 1980s, before large national chain pharmacies wiped most of the local pharmacies off the map. The pharmacy itself was quite different than the CVS or Walgreens of today. Some things that come to mind:

  • The head pharmacist usually owned the store.
  • Home delivery was commonplace.
  • There was far less general merchandise, and no groceries. However, selection of some general items, like watches and watch bands, was much wider. Some seem to have a separate aisle devoted almost entirely to corn pads and shoe insoles.
    *1970s-era pharmacies also had a much better magazine and newspaper selection; not just local papers and lowbrow pop culture rags.
  • The somewhat sweet, powdery pharmacy smell. Osco stores that were former Katz Drug Store outlets in the Kansas City area still have that smell.

There were a few chains that were similar to today’s mega-chains like Revco and Brooks, but they had a smaller selection of general merchandise items – no “seen on TV” products, 12 volt refrigerators, Big Mouth Billy Bass or the like – and few groceries; just pop, candy and basic snacks. Unlike today’s chains, they too had that distinctive drug store smell.

By the way, OTC meds back in those days, aside from laxatives and asprin, just didn’t work. Got allergies? You could buy Contac, which was about as effective as … well, nothing.

Oh, dear no. Dextromethorphan was available OTC since the 1960s.

That happens to be my website. Dextromethorphan is quite effective as an antitussive. And I assure you, dextromethorphan (DXM) is one powerful, mind-blowing psychedelic drug. DXM does work.