Discovery of old doctor's bag turns up interesting 'cures'
Retired Columbia Falls pharmacist Jack Therrien inspects the contents of the old doctor's medicine bag, while daughter Karla looks on. (Chris Peterson/Hungry Horse News)
A variety of medicines were the cures of the day more than a century ago, including heroin. (Chris Peterson/Hungry Horse News)
Jack Therrien's son Kevin recently discovered a number of old medicine bottles and doctor's bag when going through one of the garages at the family home. (Chris Peterson/Hungry Horse News)
Hungry Horse News | July 25, 2021 12:00 AM
A bottle of opium and ipecac. A vial of heroin. A jar of cocaine.
They’re not the sort of things most folks just have lying around the house.
But most folks aren’t Jack Therrien.
Therrien was a longtime pharmacist in Columbia Falls. But when he bought the place on Nucleus Avenue back in 1967 the basement had a treasure trove of old drugs, pills and even an old doctor’s bag.
Among the vitamins and other bottles, there were also interesting “medicines” of more than a century ago.
Jack’s son, Kevin Therrien, recently found the bottles and doctor’s bag when going through one of the garages at the remote family spread.
The doctor’s bag, with many of the pills and potions still intact, is perhaps most fascinating. The vials fit neatly into the case, though Jack, to his credit, dumped the heroin out years ago in a field near their Columbia Falls home at the time, not far from the Cedar Palace, Kevin said in a recent interview.
Heroin, according to the Yale School of Medicine, was developed by the German company Bayer in the late 1800s. They used a chemical modification to morphine that made it more palatable as a cough suppressant.
Back then, diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis were far more common, and deadly.
Although it worked against coughs physicians and pharmacists soon noticed an unhappy side effect—patients required ever larger doses and were becoming increasingly dependent on the elixir. By 1912 it had emerged as a recreational drug among young men in New York City. Two years later, addicts were knocking at the doors of New York and Philadelphia hospitals in search of treatment.
By 1924 it was illegal in the U.S. and no longer a “medicine.”
WHILE IT'S difficult to exactly the date the physician’s bag and its medicines, they’re probably at least a century old and probably older.
The vials all have cork caps. Other medicines have regular screw tops, but one provides an important clue — it has the date 1906 on it.
Jack surmised the heroin might have been used for more than just coughs.
“Pain,” he said, “severe pain.”
The stuff largely went unnoticed when Jack owned the pharmacy because they were in the basement. The basement had a dirt floor and was a creepy place, Karla Therrien, Jack’s daughter remembers.
The family still isn’t sure who owned, or used, the old drugs. Jack bought the pharmacy from Bud Schrock in 1967.
But the building itself has a long history. It used to be the Bank of Columbia Falls and dates back to the early 1900s, built by Columbia Falls founder James Talbott. And there had been a pharmacy in that location before Schrock.
Today, the building is owned by Dave Petersen. There are apartments on upper floors and a second-hand furniture store, Monaco, where’s Jack’s Pharmacy and Liquor once were.
When Jack owned the place, he was featured on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. Leno had a segment where he read funny newspaper clips and Jack’s ads that ran in the Hungry Horse News advertising booze and medicine read, “We take care of all your health care needs.”
That caught the comedian’s eye.
“Now that’s what I call one-stop shopping,” Leno quipped about a liquor store in a pharmacy.
Therrien sold the pharmacy to Smith’s in May 2000 and then, later, the liquor store and its license to O’Brien Byrd.
Today at 85, he lives in a remote cabin in the woods with his wife Dodie.
Kevin Therrien followed in his father’s footsteps and works for GSK, a pharmaceutical manufacturer. He lives in Corvallis, Montana.
Karla is human resources generalist for School District 6 and lives in Columbia Falls.
None of them have any desire to go back to that basement ever again.