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Addiction and Opiates

Addiction and Opiates


CHAPTER 9 THE PROBLEM IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY prostitutes because of the drug. The principal stress was placed upon the vice of opium eating among the respectable classes rather than among criminals. W. R. Cobbe said in 1895 that those who drank laudanum, swallowed gum or powdered opium, or used morphine were for the most part intelligent and respectable members of society. He also pointed out that they purchased their supplies of the drug openly and legally in the drugstores .(5) Surveys conducted before the passing of the Harrison Act in 1914 invariably indicated that women addicts outnumbered men by about three to two. For example, in 1878 Orville Marshall found that 62.2 per cent of a sample of 1,313 cases in Michigan were women, (6) and L. P. Brown in 1914 found 66.9 per cent of a group of 2,370 Tennessee addicts to be women .(7) Current statistics based upon samples obtained from law enforcement agencies always show a vast preponderance of males. Other portions of the population in which the incidence of addiction was relatively high, and probably still is, were ex-soldiers and the medical and allied professions. Addicts experienced no difficulty in obtaining their drugs in those days; in fact, narcotics were almost forced upon them. Not only did the drugstores sell the supplies cheaply and openly, but all kinds of opiatecontaining patent medicines were advertised. Thus the addict of the nineteenth century had unlimited sources of supply. He could buy paregoric, laudanum, tincture of opium, morphine, Winslow's Soothing Syrup, Godfrey's Cordial, McMunn's Elixir of Opium, or many other preparations. For a few cents a day he could keep himself loaded. He could even obtain opium by purchasing the so-called cures, widely promoted during the period. Virtually all such remedies contained opiates and were merely examples of quackery. A narcotics user once flatly asserted to me: "If a junkie tells you he got on to the stuff through his doctor, spit in his eye." The addict of today does not ordinarily become initiated through medical treatment. However, most opium eaters of the last century did, in fact, form the habit through medical treatment or by self-medication. One of the most informative books (8) on drug addiction in the nineteenth century cites more than a hundred cases of addicts who uniformly contracted the habit as a result of medical treatment. Terry and Pellens (9) quote numerous concurring opinions on this point before 1900. Little emphasis was placed on the effects of evil association, and dope peddlers were not mentioned because they were rare or nonexistent. The public then bad an altogether different conception of drug addiction from that which prevails today. The habit was not approved, but neither was it regarded as criminal or monstrous. It was usually looked upon as a vice or personal misfortune, or much as alcoholism is viewed today. Narcotics users were pitied rather than loathed as criminals or degenerates-an attitude which still prevails in Europe. The sharp contrast between the former public attitude and the present one is well illustrated by the case of the physician who contended in 1889 that it was obviously better to be a drug addict than a drunkard and therefore advocated that chronic alcoholics be cured by transforming them into drug addicts. He published the following statement on this question in a reputable medical journal: The only grounds on which opium in lieu of alcohol can be claimed as reformatory are that it is less inimical to healthy life than alcohol, that it calms in place of exciting the baser passions, and hence is less productive of acts of violence and crime; in short, that as a whole the use of morphine in place of alcohol is but a choice of evils, and by far the lesser. To be sure, the populace and even many physicians think very differently, but this is because they have not thought as they should upon the matter. On the score of economy the morphine habit is by far the better. The regular whiskey drinker can be made content in his craving for stimulation, at least for quite a long time, on two or three grains of morphine a day, divided into appropriate portions, and given at regular intervals. If purchased by the drachm at fifty cents this will last him twenty days. Now it is safe to say that a like amount of spirits for the steady drinker cannot be purchased for two and one half cents a day, and that the majority of them spend five and ten times that sum a day as a regular thing. On the score, then, of a saving to the individual and his family in immediate outlay, and of incurred disability, of the great diminution of peace disturbers and of crime, whereby an immense outlay will be saved the State; on the score of decency of behavior instead of perverse deviltry, of bland courtesy instead of vicious combativeness; on the score of a lessened liability to fearful diseases and the lessened propagation of pathologically inclined blood, I would urge the substitution of morphine instead of alcohol for all to whom such a craving is an incurable propensity. In this way I file:///I|/drugtext/local/library/books/adopiates/chapter9.htm[24-8-2010 14:23:39]

CHAPTER 9 THE PROBLEM IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY have been able to bring peacefulness and quiet to many disturbed and distracted homes, to keep the head of the family out of the gutter and out of the lock-up, to keep him from scandalous misbehavior and neglect of his affairs, to keep him from the verges and actualities of delirium tremens and horrors, and, above all, to save him from committing, as I veritably believe, some terrible crime that would cast a lasting and deep shadow upon an innocent and worthy family circle for generation after generation. Is it not the duty of a physician when he cannot cure an ill, when there is no reasonable ground for hope that it will ever be done, to do the next best thing-advise a course of treatment that will diminish to an immense extent great evils otherwise irremediable? ... The mayors and police courts would almost languish for lack of business; the criminal dockets with their attendant legal functionaries, would have much less to do than they now have-to the profit and well-being of the community. I might, had I time and space, enlarge by statistics to prove the law-abiding qualities of opium eating peoples, but of this anyone can perceive somewhat for himself, if he carefully watches and reflects on the quiet, introspective gaze of the morphine habitue and compares it with the riotous devil may-care leer of the drunkard.(10) The consumption of opiates increased enormously, far outdistancing the growth of population, during the last half of the nineteenth century. Since there was relatively little illicit traffic, the following figures on the importation of opiates give a fairly accurate picture of the enormous increase in consumption of this drug during the last four decades of the last century: After 1900 there was a drop in these totals, but it is probable that the illicit traffic was on the increase, since local restrictive legislation was becoming more frequent. In 1909 a federal law was passed prohibiting the importation of opium for smoking. The figures in the above table represent an increased use of opiates in medical practice and in the production of patent medicines as well as an increased prevalence of addiction. The Opium Smoker In contrast with the opium eater, who was regarded simply as the victim of an unfortunate vice, the American opium smoker was typically considered, as H. H. Kane said, "a sporting character." Kane made a careful attempt to trace the development of the habit. The first white man who smoked opium in America is said to have been a sporting character named Glendenyn. This was in California in 1868. The second induced to try it by the first-smoked in 1871. The practice spread rapidly and quietly among this class of gamblers and prostitutes until the latter part of 1875, at which time the authorities became cognizant of the fact and finding, upon investigation, that many women and young girls, as also young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise, a city ordinance was passed forbidding the practice under penalty of a heavy fine or imprisonment, or both."(11) Kane quotes from a letter written by a doctor of Virginia City, Nevada: file:///I|/drugtext/local/library/books/adopiates/chapter9.htm[24-8-2010 14:23:39]

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