John Edward Tompkins 1867 – 1908

First physician to record apomorphine’s benefits for treating alcohol withdrawal.

John Edward Tompkins was the first to record his use of apomorphine to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. He was born in Spotsylvania, Virginia in the United States in 1867. In 1891, aged 24, he graduated in medicine from the University of Maryland. A year later, with his wife and young family he had moved to Fredericksburg, a small town south of Washington D.C, to set up his own medical practice.

Tompkins worked hard to establish himself as a valued and respected member of the community and his reputation as a good physician and surgeon extended beyond the town. (1)

In 1899 Tompkins published the first known account of the use of apomorphine to treat the effects of severe alcohol withdrawal. A subscriber to The Medical Record, a weekly journal of Medicine and Surgery, he submitted an article after noting that previous reports on apomorphine made no mention of its merits to treat acute alcoholic delirium.

Tompkins writes: ‘For this form of alcoholism (apomorphine) gets in its work in minutes, whereas it takes hours for bromides, chloral and the like to have the same effect. It is a drug far superior to morphine in this condition, for, while morphine dries up the secretions, apomorphine eliminates the poison.'(20

He then describes giving an injection of morphine to a “habitual drinker” whilst experiencing violent convulsions.

‘In four minutes free emesis followed, rigidity gave way to relaxation, excitement to somnolence, and without further medication the patient who before had been wild and delirious, went off into a quiet sleep.

This case is similar to a number of others treated in a like manner and with like good results.’ (3)

It’s not known if Tompkins published any further endorsements on apomorphine. Unfortunately, he died prematurely following an operation in 1908 aged 41. As President of his local Medical Society he warranted an obituary in the Fredericksburg Journal where he was reported as being held in “high esteem” and his passing as “a great loss to the community.”(4)



(1) Fredericksburg Journal 1908. Notice of (the) death of J.E. Tompkins.

(2)(3) J. Edward Tompkins, 1899, Apomorphine in Acute Alcoholic Delirium, The Medical Record, 55.56.

(4) Fredericksburg Journal 1908. Notice of (the) death of J.E. Tompkins.

Image of J. EdwardTompkins courtesy of the Central Rappahannock Heritage Centre.



Tompkins III234