by Jeff Aisen from Huntington Woods, Michigan

When I was in college, back in the sixties, I worked part-time in a drug store in Warren, Michigan. I often helped out at the pharmacy. 

One day we received a telephone call from the doctor at the clinic nearby. The doctor asked if we could still compound prescriptions. Although most drug-store pharmacists counted pills from larger bottles into small plastic vials, they would - on occasion - have to mix up a compound as directed by a physician. I don’t know if druggists still do this but they did back then. 

So when the doctor asked if we could do this I said sure. 

“I have this patient,” he said. “And he has been to every doctor I know. He complains about everything but there is nothing the matter with him. He is a hypochondriac. Here is what I want you to do. Take the largest empty capsules you have and fill them with sugar. Make up ten of these. Tell my patient that it is the most powerful pain-killer ever devised. Tell him you can’t even tell him the name of the pill because it is experimental. Tell him the ingredients are secret. Tell him it is so powerful that he can only take one a day. Tell him that it is a narcotic. Tell him it is highly addictive. Tell him that it is so addictive that he can never, ever get a refill. Tell him whatever you want…just so he believes it. And Oh”, said the doctor. “Charge him a lot, or else he won’t think it’s any good.”

Richard, the night pharmacist, gleefully filled the prescription. He stuck one of every warning label we had on the small bottle. He put two of the bright red skull-and-crossbone “DANGER” stickers on it. 

When the customer walked Richard took him aside and gravely counseled him on the horribleness and extreme potency of this medication. He gave him explicit instructions of not driving after taking it. Of not operating machinery, of not going out in the sun, of not doing just about anything. 

Sure enough, ten days later the customer called, declaring the sugar-filled capsules the best thing that ever happened to him. Although he did beg for a refill or even just ONE of the miracles pills Richard had to tell him that, according to the law, we were sorry but we could not do that.