patent medicine

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1 A class of medications made under a patent, often advertised, and available without a prescription. They include analgesics, antiseptics, many cough remedies, indigestion remedies, laxatives, skin ointments, and some sedatives. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates their sale and tests their safety and efficacy. See also alternative medicine.

2 Compounds flamboyantly promoted as tonics and treatments. Most were of dubious efficacy and occasionally harmful—some contained ingredients that caused addiction, paralysis, or abortion. They also caused harm if taking them masked symptoms of serious disease. Patent medicines flourished during the 19th century, but the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act regulated their claims, and the 1936 Act banned them altogether.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology.

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