I stumbled upon this link from Collier's magazine (1905) that provides some shocking insights into patent medicines of the era. Toxic and addictive substances were apparently rampant in the early 1900's as major components of commonly purveyed -- sometimes even left on doorsteps -- remedies:
http://www.mtn.org/quack/ephemera/dec02-01.htm [Part 1 of 2]
It's a very intelligent look at the lack of regulatory controls prevalent in that day and age. (And you may well spot a *highly* familiar current brand name which, though now almost assuredly benign in composition, was then actually fatal in the "prescribed" dose.)
Just one of the many dangers of the Gilded Age, I suppose. And it ran deeper, in some fairly elite circles, than you might think. Fascinating stuff!