Very old drugs.....

I recently purchased at an estate auction an old wooden “medicine chest”, the kind where you open the lid to reveal rows of small glass bottles containing various mixtures, elixirs, concoctions, powders, etc. On the inside of the lid is a list of the contents of the bottles.

One of the bottles is labeled “Tincture of Opium” and still has some liquid (almost, some dark brown “oozing” stuff) at the bottom.

I surmise that I have in my possession opium. Needless to say I was surprised.

And no, you can’t have any. Neither will I be ingesting any to tell you whether or not it’s still viable (that’s why I’m asking here instead). I am considering: 1) keeping it if it’s no longer chemically active (because it’s definitely a “cool” conversation piece); 2) disposing of the ooze (scrape it into a plastic bag and throw out with the household garbage) and keeping the bottle.

What are the legal ramifications of this situation? Specifically, is this stuff “grandfathered”, i.e. it’s so old that it was originally legal (and thus this sample is technically “not criminalized” today, even though a sample of opium produced today is quite criminal to possess in the U.S.)? Although this is a longshot, could I be arrested/prosecuted for possessing this?

I suspect the local D.A. would yell at me and confiscate the bottle, but lacking any previous trouble with the law I probably wouldn’t be put to trial (not that I’d like to find out).

So what’s the scoop? Am I in possession of a controlled substance? The box was made in the late 1800’s, has this stuff deteriorated to the point it’s lost it’s “opiate” qualities? Is the auctioneer guilty of “distributing a controlled substance”?

And once again, no you can’t have any.

Can I have some?

Interesting reading:

Anything left in the bottle for that long is definitely inert pharmacologically. Whether it can harm you is another matter entirely. Doubtful, but my advice is don’t put it to the test.

As to the legality, the police and DEA have much better things to do than to wonder if your 1900 vintage Opiate supply is of any harm to any law.

Cleaned up and displayed with the label prominent, it should make quite a conversation piece.

Christopher Reves, D.Ph.
Ole Miss '95

Did you know that at one time a lot of patent medicines contained radium? Some of the containers they were in are still radioactive. I don’t know how dangerous they are, but anyone who has old patent medicine bottles around should keep that in mind. And if you find out there’s still any radioactivity in one of the bottles, you should give it to Chickenhead.