The issue before the Justice Department's Drug Enforcement Administration was whether to approve an application from several "naturopathic physicians" in Oregon to use federally "controlled substances," i.e. drugs, such as codeine, opium and cocaine.

"Naturopathy," according to the Dec. 23 Federal Register (page 62348), "is an unusual branch of medicine, the practice of which is permitted in a dwindling number of states."

The naturopathic doctor, according to the notice, "practices a healing art which appears to be a mixture of modern medicine and Old World herbalism." The Oregon Naturopathic Board of Examiners, which licenses practitioners in that state, describes their treatments as "maintaining or restoring the human body to a normal physiological state of health" by prescribing and dispensing "botanical medicines, nature's agents, forces, processes and products." The practitioner appears to avoid using synthetic drugs but does dispense "nonpoisonous plant substances" such as "local anesthetics in connection with minor surgery . . . ."

Some of those "nonpoisonous plant substances" turn out to be controlled substances, and therefore persons who purchase and administer them must be registered with the DEA.

Normally, DEA will register doctors who are licensed to practice under their own state laws and who are registered with their state pharmacy boards. In Oregon, however, the naturopathic doctors are not registered by the pharmacy board and no Oregon agency has determined which federally controlled substances they may dispense.

The solution has a Reagan administration ring. "It would be unfair for DEA to deny registration . . . while awaiting definitive state action," says the notice. It also makes clear that the state, not the federal government, must decide which drugs the Oregon naturopathic doctors should be allowed to use.

To settle the matter, DEA and lawyers for the naturopathic physicians stipulated that "codeine sulfate tablets, codeine phosphate tablets, paregoric, tincture of opium and Dovert's powder, when dispensed or administered in usual dosages, may be considered to be plant substances, and that solutions of cocaine hydrochloride may, in certain very limited situations, be appropriate for use as a local anesthetic . . . ."

If Oregon eventually decides any of those drugs is inappropriate, the DEA-approved list "will be diminished accordingly," says the notice.

Meanwhile, anyone for a local naturopathic anesthetic? Clothespins Snap Back

Who says the United States doesn't protect its industries? A report to the president by the International Trade Commission, printed in the Dec. 23 Federal Register (page 62338), outlines the battle being waged on behalf of American clothespin manufacturers.

This giant industry's 1981 payroll totaled 427 people, nine fewer than the federal commission that did the investigation. It is also, according to the report, concentrated "in four small towns in Maine and two in Vermont . . . ."

In 1976-77, imports of clothespins, primarily from Taiwan, China, Poland and West Germany, captured almost half the American market of about six million pins annually. The handful of American producers showed a loss of over $500,000. In 1978, the commission set import quotas for clothespins, and recovery began.

Employment rose from 387 that year to 400 the next. Imports' share of the market dropped to 30 percent and the profits of the U.S. firms rose to $1.2 million.

The companies, however, want three more years of export controls in order to secure their gains. Over the past three years, Taiwan actually expanded its position as producer of inexpensive clothespins, mostly small spring-type plastic ones. And China, Poland (apparently before the crackdown), West Germany and even Portugal are called "a significant threat to the U.S. industry . . . ."

As a result of its inquiry, the commission agreed to extend clothespin import quotas for three years. It found that "relief has had a minimal effect on consumers" and "reduction in relief could have a significant adverse impact on the six New England communities involved."