A debate over the best-ever Coca-Cola slogan recently led us to this useful list, which contains some ad-speak that likely wouldn’t pass muster on today’s Madison Avenue. Our favorite archaic slogan is the one from 1906: “The great national temperance beverage.” This struck us as more than a little humorous, given Coca-Cola’s roots as a cocaine-laced wine—one that its creator, John Stith Pemberton, used as a balm for his own crippling morphine addiction:
Pemberton had a personal reason for his interest in coca as a cure for morphine addiction: he was probably using French Wine Coca in an attempt to break his own habit. Three people associated with him in the final year of his life stated categorically that Pemberton was an addict. J.C. Mayfield recalled under oath that “Dr. Pemberton was in bad health. We did not know at the time what was the matter with him, but it developed that he was a drug fiend.” Mayfield’s ex-wife wrote that Pemberton was “for years addicted to the morphine habit.”
“Morphinism,” as it was then called, was increasingly prevalent, particularly among physicians and pharmacists. The importation of opium to the U.S. had increased dramatically, from almost 146,000 pounds in 1867 to over 500,000 pounds in 1880. Advertisements purporting to offer cures for the habit appeared frequently in Atlanta papers.
Yet despite his addiction, Pemberton was able to launch a company now worth billions of dollars. Perhaps that says something about the ability of addicts to function within society—could Pemberton’s case be a small argument in favor of managing addiction, rather than sticking with our current zero tolerance approach? This is not to suggest that morphine was good for Pemberton’s long-term health—his years of use eventually caught up with him. But what if that use had been managed within a health system, rather than something he took great pains to conceal? It’s enough to make one question whether methadone maintenance is really worth the trouble. Maybe those Canadians are on to something after all.