America’s First Drug Regulation Regime: The Rise and Fall of the Import Drug Act of 1848

March 2004

Issue: 59 Food and Drug Law Journal 169-200 (2004).

Tracing the passage, administration, and repeal of the Import Drug Act of 1848, this paper provides a comprehensive view of America’s first major attempt at drug regulation. While applying only to imported drugs, the 1848 act was an ambitious federal regulatory program in an age better known for its laissez faire attitudes. Even though the act enjoyed overwhelming support in Congress and the medical community, its first few years of administration presented many new challenges. The Customs Service was successful in integrating these early lessons into a highly efficient enforcement system that seems to have greatly reduced the problem of imported adulterated drugs. Despite its success, the act was to fall victim to the federal government’s growing regulatory ambitions. In addition to addressing a largely neglected topic in drug regulation history, this paper seeks to make a minor contribution to the history of the rise of the American regulatory state.


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