The patch, as we know it today, was invented by Dr. Frank T. Etscorn III and patented in the USA on July 1, 1986 (U.S. Patent #4,597,961). He has patents pending in Europe as well. Dr. Etscorn came up with the idea for the patch after he accidentally spilled liquid nicotine on his arm. (One wonders what a psychologist was doing handling liquid nicotine in any case...) He apparently licensed and/or sold his patent to Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals of Switzerland.* The patch became available in the United States in December 1991, and by 1994 had been prescribed for more than four million Americans.

The idea of transdermal medication is, of course, not new. Indeed, the patent details in this case reference patents all the way back to 1930 (#1,775,998) for a "medicated handkerchief." The relative novelty of this invention is the use of nicotine and the intention to assist people who try to quit smoking. By using the patch instead of a cigarette (or a dip, or chew, or snuff), the person will in theory first break the habit of the substance and then eventually be able to stop using the patch as a substitute.

The patch was first sold under the product name Habitrol (made by Novartis), though today you can also find Nicoderm CQ (SmithKline Beecham), Nicotrol (McNeil Consumer Products), Nicotine Transdermal System (NT-S, Elan), and many store brands (e.g. Walgreen's and Equate).

Originally available by prescription only in the U.S., the FDA allowed the first product OTC (Nicotrol) on July 3, 1996. Shortly after, on August 2, 1996, Nicoderm CQ was approved for OTC use. NT-S was approved OTC in 1998. Habitrol is still prescription-only. Habitrol and Nicoderm CQ each have three versions of its product (21mg, 14mg, and 7mg) which allow the person to gradually withdraw nicotine from his system and thereby keep the agitation, irritability, and other withdrawl symptoms to a minimum. (The NT-S has two versions, at 22mg and 11mg. Until recently, Nicotrol was available in one strength only; in order to keep up with competition, they have released a step-down system with three versions at 15mg, 10mg, and 5mg.)

* At the time, Dr. Etscorn was a professor of psychology at New Mexico Tech. From the royalites for his invention, he donated a fair chunk of change to NMT for a new observatory; the doctor is an amatuer astronomer. It was dedicated to him in 1993 and is called ECO - Etscorn Campus Observatory.


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