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Pharmacy Act 1868

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The Pharmacy Act 1868 was the major 19th-century legislation in the United Kingdom limiting the sale of poisons and dangerous drugs to qualified pharmacists and druggists.



During the 1850s and 1860s there were moves to establish the medical and pharmaceutical professions as separate, self-regulating bodies. The Pharmaceutical Society had been established in 1841 and by the 1850s had 2,500 members out of a total of 25,000 drug sellers. The Pharmacy Act 1852 set up a register of pharmacists and limited the use of the title to people registered with the society, but proposals to give it exclusive rights were rejected. After the society opposed two Poison Bills in 1857 and 1859 that did not meet its criteria, a rival United Society of Chemists and Druggists was established in 1860 by pharmacists disgruntled with the lack of progress, and in 1863 the newly established General Medical Council unsuccessfully attempted to assert control over drug distribution.

Eventually a compromise was reached between the two competing pharmaceutical societies, from which emerged the 1868 Act.


The Pharmacy Act 1868 established a system of registration involving major and minor examinations controlled by the Pharmaceutical Society. It also controlled the distribution of fifteen named poisons in a two-part schedule. All poisons had to be entered in a Poison Register. Those in the first part, which included strychnine, potassium cyanide and ergot, could only be sold if the purchaser was known to the seller or to an intermediary known to both. All drugs had to be sold in containers with the seller's name and address. Arsenic had already been controlled by an 1851 Act.

Drugs in the second schedule included opium and all preparations of opium or of poppies. There was opposition from many chemists, who claimed the various forms of opium such as laudanum constituted a major part of their trade, so that early drafts omitted it entirely; it was only reintroduced later in the parliamentary process.


There was an immediate fall in the death rate caused by opium from 6.4 per million population in 1868 to 4.5 in 1869. After a decade it had risen to over 5 and by the end of the century it was back at the 1868 level. Deaths among children under five dropped from 20.5 per million population between 1863 and 1867, to 12.7 per million in 1871, and further declined to between 6 and 7 per million in the 1880s.

Despite the reservation of opium to professional control, general sales did continue to a limited extent and sales of preparations containing less than 1 per cent of opium were generally permitted. Customers who could afford medical attention and obtained their opium on prescription suffered little hindrance.

In contrast with legislation regulating other industries at the time, the Pharmacy Act neglected to restrict the profession to men only. As a result, 223 women were listed on the first compulsory register of pharmacists in 1869. Most were the wives, widows or daughters of male pharmacists and were already practicing in 1868. Alice Vickery became the first woman to qualify as a pharmacist under the new Act in 1873.


Pharmacy Act 1868 Wikipedia

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