Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prelude: The Jin Fuey Moy Case

Ah, who could forget the old RCIRISTPPIMCDDSDGOCLSDPOP? What? You don’t remember the Act to Provide for the Registration of, with Collectors of Internal Revenue, and to Impose a Special Tax Upon, All Persons Who Produce, Import, Manufacture, Compound, Deal in, Dispense, Sell, Distribute, or Give Away Opium or Cocoa Leaves, Their Salts, Derivatives, or Preparations, and for Other Purposes? Unbelievable! The Act required such persons to register and pay a “special tax” at a rate of $1 per annum. Although it provided for “certain exceptions,” the Act was serious stuff. Those who were in violation were subject to a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to five years.

Jin Fuey Moy was practicing physician in Pittsburg in the early 1900s. Moy would prescribe considerable quantities of morphine sulphate or morphine tablets to individuals after “superficial” physical examinations, or no examination at all! He would, however, emphasize that patients use the drugs “as directed." The only problem with that was that the “directions" were such that the recipient was generally left to use the drug “virtually as he pleased.”

Sometimes, in order to avoid paperwork, prescriptions were confirmed over the telephone. They were also always filled at the same drug store because, as Moy explained to his patients, he and the particular pharmacist there did "business" with and “understood” each other.

Dr. Moy would grant multiple prescriptions to the same patient. Sometimes, he would grant them to a fictitious wife, or two, or a relative (who may or may not have actually existed) in some other state. By the Spring of 1917, Moy was issuing such prescriptions hundreds of times each month. Every now and then, the pharmacist would send patients back to Moy with unfilled prescriptions because it was “taking too big a chance.”

Moy was eventually indicted on 20 counts. He was acquitted on 12 of them, but convicted on 8 which charged that he “unlawfully, willfully, knowingly, and feloniously sell, barter, exchange, and give away certain derivative of salt opium [not] in pursuance of a written order from such person on a form issued in blank for that purpose by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.” His appeal to the United States Supreme Court, however, constituted the first test of the constitutionality of the big boy - the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (which made exceptions for patients with “legitimate” prescriptions granted in “good faith” by medical physicians). In addition, prosecutors went after one of Moy’s patients, an addict, one Willie Martin, charging that he was in violation of the law for mere possession of drugs.

NEXT: The Supreme Court's ruling and The President Responds.

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