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Harrison Act

Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From The Harrison Narcotic Drug Act Of 1914:, Excerpt From The Harrison Narcotic Drug Act Of 1914

Excerpt from the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act of 1914

Reprinted from The Statutes at Large and Proclamations of the United States of America from March 1913 to March 1915. Vol. XXXVIII, Part 1 Published in 1915

Prior to the twentieth century few restrictions were placed on drug trade and use. Opium and cocaine flowed freely into the United States. Drug abuse was considered more a public health problem than a criminal activity. Drugs such as opium and cocaine were common in medicines. Opium, which affects the brain and spinal cord, had been a painkiller and sedative for centuries. Opium and cocaine were also used to fight depression, relieve chronic pain, serve as an anesthetic, settle intestinal disorders, and relieve a variety of other afflictions.

Cocaine was even used as an ingredient in wine and Coca Cola. Other drugs were processed from opium, such as morphine, a major pain-fighting drug for the wounded in the American Civil War (1861–65; war in the United States between the Union [North], who was opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [South], who was in favor of slavery). Drugs derived from opium are called opiates. In 1898 a process to derive heroin from opium was discovered, becoming the most additive opiate of all.

"Any person who violates or fails to comply with any of the requirements of this Act shall, on conviction, be fined . . . or be imprisoned."

The first effort to regulate drugs came in 1906 with the Pure Food and Drug Law. The act posed few restrictions, however, Opium den in Chinatown, New York, 1925. After the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act of 1917 restricted the use of many narcotics to prescription by doctors, illegal drug trafficking became a lucrative enterprise for organized crime. (© Bettmann/Corbis)
as it primarily concerned the labeling of medicines by pharmaceutical companies. It did lead to a decline in the use of opiates in medicines. The next action by Congress came just three years later with the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, which prohibited importing opium. Domestic production and the use of opiates in medicines continued.

In 1914 Congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act, the first measure to control narcotics trafficking. The act approached control through a revenue path—requiring those who transported, sold, or possessed narcotics to report it to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and pay taxes. The Harrison Act limited opium availability to only small amounts as prescribed by doctors, who were required to register and pay taxes on the amounts they prescribed.

For More Information


Abadinsky, Howard. Drug Abuse: An Introduction. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1997.

Hanson, Bill, ed. Life With Heroin: Voices From the Inner City. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1985.

Inciardi, James A. The War on Drugs: Heroin, Cocaine, Crime, and Public Policy. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1986.

Sora, Joseph, ed. Substance Abuse. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1997.

Web Sites

National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.nida.nih.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. http://www.dea.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law