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Iodine History: The Iodine Drinkers

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Iodine Drinkers

A treasured possession :)
A dark time in the history of iodine would be the the time of the "Iodine Suicides".  A spate of "Iodine Drinkers" were documented in the popular media. These "iodine drinkers" were mostly young women, conceivably because of the reputation for "hysteria" that women had(have), especially young women. And, as so eloquently stated in the Time Magazine article cited, "young women are at home, near a medicine cabinet, most of the time".

Prior to this time the necessity of iodine, and iodine's reputation as a cure-all was firmly established in  mass consciousness. 

After this time, and to this day, the idea that iodine is "poison" is an idea that we must argue. It's not the iodine, after all, it's the denatured alcohol in the tincture. IODINE IS ESSENTIAL.

Girl Visitor Drinks Iodine

Tells Chinatown Sightseers That She is Penniless and Wants to Die

Iodine Tincture Poison Label
Screaming that she had drunk Iodine, a well dressed young woman who said she was Miss Evelyn Smith, 21 old, of 321 west Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD., fell to the sidewalk in front of the Chinatown Joss House in Mott Street last night, and then begged about 100 sightseers who ran to her assistance to let her die. She was taken to Volunteer Hospital, where it was said her condition was critical.

Miss Smith told the police she had come here on Friday from Baltimore on a truck, penniless, had walked the streets Friday night and had had no sleep.

In her pocket was a note to her mother, Mrs. George Smith, 642 Madison Avenue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, begging forgiveness after saying she was sorry she could not see her before dying. She said her mother was an actress.

Miss Smith would give no reason for her desire to die.

The New York Times, published November 7, 1920

Girl Visitor Drinks Iodine

image source, wiki commons

Fights Doctor and Policemen Who Come to Her Rescue

Mary Gibbs, 14 years old, attempted suicide by drinking iodine in the bathroom of her home at 535 West 134th Street last night because her mother scolded her. She fought a policeman and a doctor who tried to use a stomach pump, but her resistance was overcome, and she was taken to Lincoln Hospital. She will recover.

The girl went to a store near her home last night and her mother found that she had made a mistake in changing a bill. Resenting her mother's scolding, Mary drank nearly a bottle of iodine. Her brother John, 8 years old, heard her fall and told Mrs. Gibbs who summoned help.

The New York Times, published December 28, 1922

Scolded, She Drinks Iodine


Girl's Screams After Drinking Iodine Startle Holy Trinity Parishioners

image source, wiki commons
Parishioners of Holy Trinity Church, 205 West Eighty-second Street, who had gone to confession last evening at 6 o'clock, were startled by the screams of a young woman who fell to the floor just as she stepped through the door from the vestibule. Several persons, including the priests, ran to her aid.

"I have swallowed IODINE." she gasped.

One of the parishioners ran to the office of Dr. Clarence J. D'alton, 203 West Eighty-first Street and returned with the physician. He administered first aid and an ambulance was summoned from Knickerbocker Hospital. The young woman said she was Mary Neary, 22 years, of 208 West Sixty-seventh Street. S he refused to tell why she had drunk the poison. She was removed to the hospital, where it was reported that her condition was not serious.

The New York Times, published January 23, 1921

Takes Poison in Church

"Tired of Life", Tries to Die

image source, wiki commons
Girl Collapses After Taking Iodine, But Will Recover.

She was "tired of Life" was the explanation yesterday morning by Katie Cavanaugh, 25 years old, of 641 Tenth avenue, for mixing iodine with a widely advertised nerve tonic she had just purchased at a soda fountain on Eighth Avenue, near Forty-seventh Street.

The young woman collapsed in the street and was removed to Bellevue Hospital. It was found that the dose had been small and that she probably would live.

The New York Times, published August 7, 1922

Tired of Life, Tries to Die


image source, wiki commons
Sailors Rescue Sufferer from IODINE on Riverside Drive

The screams of May Mantone, 19, of 242 West 109th Street, on the sloping lawn on Riverside Drive at 109th Street, brought to her aid two sailors, William Straw and Edwin Johnson. With the assistance of Donald Freeman, a Columbia student, she was taken to a drug store at Broadway and 107th Street, where first aid for iodine poisoning was given.
An ambulance from the Harlem Hospital was summoned and Dr. Buchman took her to the hospital unconscious. Neighbors said that the girl lived with her father and a sister but both father and sister were away last night. 

The New York Times, published March 13, 1922

Girl Found Poisoned

And finally, an article from Time Magazine, 1938, that attempts to explain the iodine suicide phenomena...

Iodine Suicides

Young Dr. Merrill Moore of Boston is known as a psychiatrist, semiprofessional swimmer and author of 25,000 good and bad sonnets. With all his zest for life, Dr. Moore is most interested in the problem of suicide, has collected many scientific facts on this phenomenon. Last week in The New England Journal of Medicine he discussed the agent most commonly used by would-be suicides: iodine.

Although the years 1915-36 showed a steady increase in the number of iodine drinkers, said Dr. Moore, not one fatal case of iodine poisoning was observed in Boston and vicinity. Reasons: 1) Iodine cannot be absorbed by the body without chemical change. It combines with fatty acids, proteins, starches, or unites with another element and changes from a powerful, slow-acting cell poison to a less toxic iodide. 2) Iodine produces such intense irritation of the gastrointestinal tract that the stomach rejects even small amounts.

Only a heroic dose will result in death, and when death does occur it is usually due to overstimulation of the thyroid.

3) Many people purposely take only a small amount since "iodine is used chiefly by essentially immature persons at ages when they have failed to gain attention and satisfaction and bid for these by sensational means." Largest group of iodine drinkers, added Dr. Moore, are females between 14 and 20 (they are home near a medicine cabinet most of the time). Largest group of males are between 26 and 30. Whether they know that an ordinary gulp of iodine is seldom fatal, Dr. Moore could not say. He inclined to think not, however, since druggists glue a suggestive skull and bones to every iodine bottle.


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