William Turner
Psychiatrist William Turner, with Jack Dreyfus (right), who directed DPH research for the Dreyfus medical foundation when it was established in 1965.

Travels with the Government: Page One

Few of us have a clear picture of the federal government and how it operates. With millions of people in it, government has to be run by regulations. This leads to routine. Where there’s routine, innovation doesn’t thrive. I’m not being critical, government means well. But I’ll tell you this, if you want the government to do something outside of routine—and expect to see it happen in your lifetime—you’d better arrange for reincarnation.

I didn’t know this in 1966, and with the optimism of a Boy Scout I approached the federal government. I would have gone to the government sooner but had felt the evidence was too informal. Now, with the jail study done, the time was right. I had two thoughts in mind. The first was that the government might take the matter off my hands. I hoped for this, but wasn’t counting on it. My second thought was that I didn’t want to do anything contrary to government policy. Their objectives and mine were the same. If I was to proceed on my own, I needed official advice.

There were two logical places to go: the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the Food and Drug Administration. Since I was a layman, the Department of Health seemed the appropriate place. At that time John W. Gardner was Secretary of HEW. It took me about a month to get an appointment with the Secretary. That seemed like a long time. When I got to know the government better I realized that a month was instantaneous.

I met with Secretary Gardner in Washington in May 1966. We talked for fifty minutes. That is, I talked for the first forty minutes and he talked for the last ten. In those forty minutes I summarized my experience with Dilantin and my observations of its benefits in others. I told him of my disappointment in the two hospital studies I’d sponsored, of setting up the Dreyfus Medical Foundation, and of the double-blind study at the Worcester County Jail. Secretary Gardner listened. From the experience I’d had it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had been skeptical. But he wasn’t. The Secretary seemed to sense that I was on the right track. Although he didn’t suggest that the government take a hand, he gave me three helpful suggestions.


The first suggestion had to do with my unmedical terminology. The Secretary laughed when I made my “dry twigs” analogy. He said he liked it but thought more sophisticated language would stand me in good stead in talking with physicians. Of course he was right, and now I talk of “post-tetanic potentiation” and “post-tetanic afterdischarge” as if they were old friends. His second suggestion was that I should tell Parke-Davis about my findings. I followed this suggestion, too, as will be explained later.

The third suggestion came as a surprise, but I welcomed it. The Secretary said I should seek national publicity for the story. He understood my disappointment with the lack of results from the two hospitals. However, he was sure that somewhere in the United States there were hospitals and physicians who would be interested in the story.

I told Secretary Gardner I could try Life magazine. A few months earlier Life had done a kind article about me by Marshall Smith with the understated title, “Maverick Wizard Behind the Wall Street Lion.” Marshall and I had become good friends, and I thought he might introduce me to Life’s science department. The Secretary said that Life would be an excellent place for this story, if they would do it. The meeting with Secretary Gardner was most helpful. His suggestions were good and I followed them all.

It wasn’t easy to get Life magazine to do a medical article recommended by a layman. Albert Rosenfeld, Life’s science editor, was understandably cautious. He had several sessions with me in which he listened carefully to the evidence. Then Al said he would like to do the story, but Life would require a medical event as a peg. He said a medical meeting would serve the purpose. Before making a firm commitment, however, Al wanted to get the reactions of a good friend, Dr. Joel Elkes, director of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins.

Before I met Dr. Elkes I thought of him as a hurdle. But after a discussion with him, I found I had a friend. Dr. Elkes said the subject was of particular interest since ten years earlier he had planned to do research on PHT with other physicians. But just at that time an exciting new medicine, thorazine, had appeared, and their interest had been sidetracked. Dr. Elkes was helpful in setting up the meeting that Life required, and in 1966 a symposium on PHT was held at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

In September 1967 Life published an article by Albert Rosenfeld—“10,000-to-1 Payoff.” The article was a turning point. The response to it, and to the Reader’s Digest condensation of it printed in thirteen languages, forced us to increase our small staff to keep up with phone calls and to answer letters. Many physicians wrote that they were using PHT for a variety of purposes.

We received thousands of letters from the public. The best side of human nature showed up. The writers expressed deep appreciation for benefits they got from PHT as a result of the articles. Many described their experiences in detail in the hope that by so doing they might help others. We selected a hundred of these letters and made a booklet for physicians. But readership was poor; doctors consider letters “anecdotal.”

The Life and Reader’s Digest articles opened things up. Now there were institutions and individual physicians with genuine interest in doing work on PHT. Soon the Foundation was sponsoring over a dozen studies. We got as far from home base as Chichester, England. There, Dr. Lionel Haward, in a series of double-blind studies with normal volunteers, demonstrated that PHT improved cognitive function. In the United States, perhaps the most significant of these early studies was by Stephens and Shaffer at Johns Hopkins. In a double-blind crossover study, they found PHT to be markedly effective in reducing symptoms related to fear and anger.

During this period Dr. Turner was searching the medical literature to see if previous work had been done on PHT. To my surprise he and his staff found hundreds of studies, published over the previous twenty years. These studies, in addition to confirming our observations in thought and mood, reported PHT to be useful for a variety of other disorders. Among them were cardiac disorders, trigeminal neuralgia, migraine, diabetes, pruritis ani, ulcers, and asthma.

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