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The Pharmacy Newsletter, What Has Ether to Do with Big Pharma?

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Sometimes it’s the small singular events that eventually lead to major changes. This is what happened when ether (diethyl ether) was used as a general anesthetic during surgery.

William Garst HSThe first use of ether is somewhat clouded in controversy. Dr. Crawford Long of rural Jefferson, Georgia noticed after attending “ether parties” that the partygoers seemed to be immune to pain if they suffered an injury

Consequently, he used ether successfully on a patient in 1842 to remove two neck tumors. However, Dr. Long did not publish his use of ether, and it was not until 1846 when a Boston dentist, William Morton, used ether to extract an infected tooth safely without the patient being aware of any pain. Dr. Morton then convinced a skeptical leading surgeon to try ether on a patient needing surgery. The surgery was done in the presence of other surgical staff, and the stunned audience saw for themselves the wonderful effects of ether: the patient not being conscious of the surgery and successfully waking up. Until this time surgery was still a barbaric procedure. It was said the best surgeons were the quickest to lessen the time the patient was in intense pain. This demonstration of ether created almost an instant demand for the product by surgeons.

The drugs of that period were compounded by local apothecaries (drugstores). Ether is very flammable, highly explosive, and difficult to make. In addition, the variance between batches of ether made at different apothecaries was great and inconsistent at best. Even when ether was supplied by chemical suppliers instead of apothecaries there were vast differences in the batches. What was needed was a standardized product so if it was obtained in one part of the country it was the same as if obtained in another part of the country. This is similar to what happened in the energy field when Standard Oil was formed to “standardize” kerosene.

Edward Robinson Squibb was a naval physician (c. 1846) and complained about the poor treatment of sailors under his care and especially the quality of the drugs that were available at that time. The Navy assigned Squibb to establish the Brooklyn Naval Laboratory with the mission to produce high-quality drugs.

One of the first drugs E.R. Squibb focused on was ether. He quickly found out how difficult and dangerous the manufacturing of ether was. Squibb also evaluated the ether available at the time and found the batches all to be very inconsistent. He even went back to school to take a refresher course in chemistry, and in 1854 Squibb produced a breakthrough in the manufacturing of ether by finding a process that produced a consistent product in a much safer way.

In 1857, when the Naval Laboratory was closed due to budget cuts, E.R. Squibb went on to form his own manufacturing company to produce ether. E.R. Squibb and Sons was the first American pharmaceutical company founded to produce standardized products of existing drugs. It would not be until the early part of the 20th century that pharmaceutical companies would search for unique patentable drugs to bring to market.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

*   *     *

William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007 he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016 he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at communitypharmacynewsletter@gmail.com.

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Email editor@

alachuatoday.com

Sometimes it’s the small singular events that eventually lead to major changes. This is what happened when ether (diethyl ether) was used as a general anesthetic during surgery.

William Garst HSThe first use of ether is somewhat clouded in controversy. Dr. Crawford Long of rural Jefferson, Georgia noticed after attending “ether parties” that the partygoers seemed to be immune to pain if they suffered an injury

Consequently, he used ether successfully on a patient in 1842 to remove two neck tumors. However, Dr. Long did not publish his use of ether, and it was not until 1846 when a Boston dentist, William Morton, used ether to extract an infected tooth safely without the patient being aware of any pain. Dr. Morton then convinced a skeptical leading surgeon to try ether on a patient needing surgery. The surgery was done in the presence of other surgical staff, and the stunned audience saw for themselves the wonderful effects of ether: the patient not being conscious of the surgery and successfully waking up. Until this time surgery was still a barbaric procedure. It was said the best surgeons were the quickest to lessen the time the patient was in intense pain. This demonstration of ether created almost an instant demand for the product by surgeons.

The drugs of that period were compounded by local apothecaries (drugstores). Ether is very flammable, highly explosive, and difficult to make. In addition, the variance between batches of ether made at different apothecaries was great and inconsistent at best. Even when ether was supplied by chemical suppliers instead of apothecaries there were vast differences in the batches. What was needed was a standardized product so if it was obtained in one part of the country it was the same as if obtained in another part of the country. This is similar to what happened in the energy field when Standard Oil was formed to “standardize” kerosene.

Edward Robinson Squibb was a naval physician (c. 1846) and complained about the poor treatment of sailors under his care and especially the quality of the drugs that were available at that time. The Navy assigned Squibb to establish the Brooklyn Naval Laboratory with the mission to produce high-quality drugs.

One of the first drugs E.R. Squibb focused on was ether. He quickly found out how difficult and dangerous the manufacturing of ether was. Squibb also evaluated the ether available at the time and found the batches all to be very inconsistent. He even went back to school to take a refresher course in chemistry, and in 1854 Squibb produced a breakthrough in the manufacturing of ether by finding a process that produced a consistent product in a much safer way.

In 1857, when the Naval Laboratory was closed due to budget cuts, E.R. Squibb went on to form his own manufacturing company to produce ether. E.R. Squibb and Sons was the first American pharmaceutical company founded to produce standardized products of existing drugs. It would not be until the early part of the 20th century that pharmaceutical companies would search for unique patentable drugs to bring to market.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

*   *     *

William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007 he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016 he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

#     #     #

Email editor@

alachuatoday.com