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The great quinine fraud : legality issues in the non-narcotic drug trade in British India

Barton, Patricia (2008) The great quinine fraud : legality issues in the non-narcotic drug trade in British India. The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 22 (1). pp. 6-25.

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Abstract

Until late in the British Raj (1857-1948), the colonial authorities envisaged the drug problem on the sub-continent as one of control of the illicit trade in narcotics. By the inter-war period the Government of India began to become aware that there were problems within the medicinal market. Having previously prided themselves that any medicinal drug sold by officials or given free to the poor during epidemics was as pure as science could make it, individual physicians, pharmacologists and politicians would bring to the government’s attention the problem of the adulteration of the official drugs. Using the example of quinine, this paper examines why, despite increasing evidence of the “quinine fraud,” government at both central and provincial level was slow to respond to the problem. For the provincial Chemical Examiners who were entrusted with analysing the quality of medicinal drugs, this was only one of their many tasks, and often regarded as the least important. However, India simply followed an international trend. The League of Nations Health Section preferred to set standards for biological products such as sera and anti-toxins, the products of newer scientific medicine, rather than for older alkaloid products such as quinine. Authorities in India, therefore, were left to attempt to create standards for medicinal products which would permit the prosecution of the crime of adulteration when it was still a controversial issue for international authorities.