Never Do Unto Others What You Wouldn't Do to Yourself

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


June 23, 2015

From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

Figure 2. William Stewart Halsted. Image from Wikipedia

In the late 19th century, William Stewart Halsted (1852-1922), while training at Bellevue Hospital, New York, experimented with cocaine as a local anesthetic agent. At this time, general anesthesia had been used for several decades, whereas local anesthesia became feasible only after the synthesis of cocaine in 1891.

Halsted became addicted to cocaine and was hospitalized in a sanatorium, where his physicians attempted to cure his addiction by substituting morphine. When Halsted joined the staff of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, he was addicted to morphine and remained so for his entire career. Despite his addiction, he was a skilled, respected, and innovative surgeon as well as being an educator.

Sigmund Freud was another prominent physician who experimented with cocaine as an anesthetic agent and also became an addict, at least for part of his professional career.[2]


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