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Carl Durham, Champion of Pharmaceutical Reform

Durham in his Chapel Hill pharmacy prior to his election to Congress. Image from the Library of Congress.On October 26, 1951, President Harry S. Truman signed the Durham-Humphrey Amendment to the 1938 Food, Drugs and Cosmetic Act into law. Cosponsored by North Carolina native Rep. Carl T. Durham and future vice president Hubert Humphrey Jr., the amendment sought to regulate the distribution of medication.

Prior to its passage, drug manufacturers decided for themselves whether their drugs could be sold with or without the supervision of medical professionals. The lack of standardization allowed consumers to easily purchase basically any drug over the counter, exposing them to great harm.

To correct this problem, the Durham-Humphrey amendments established two official classes of drugs (over-the-counter and prescription), defined classification criteria and appointed the Food and Drug Administration as the governing body for the classification process. The system remains in place to this day.

During the course of his 22-year congressional career, Durham, who hailed from Orange County and was a pharmacist by profession, served on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, the House Armed Services Committee, the International Atomic Energy Agency and served as a delegate to the 1954 Atoms for Peace Conference in Geneva.

The law’s original language is available online through the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

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