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Addiction and Opiates

Addiction and Opiates


CHAPTER 9 THE PROBLEM IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY "Opium smoking had been entirely confined to the Chinese up to and before the autumn of 1876, when the practice was introduced by a sporting character who had lived in China, where he had contracted the habit. He spread the practice amongst his class, and his mistress, a woman of the town, introduced it among her demi-monde acquaintances, and it was not long before it had widely spread amongst the people mentioned and then amongst the younger class of boys and girls, many of the latter of the more respected class of families. The habit grew very rapidly until it reached young women of more mature age, when the necessity for stringent measures became apparent, and was met by the passing of a city ordinance."(12) Considerable numbers of Chinese arrived in the United States during the 1850's; there were thousands in the West by 186o. (13) It seems incredible, therefore, that no white man should have tried the drug before 1868. An addict who began to smoke opium while he was in the West in 1906 told me that, although he had heard about the account given by Kane, he was disposed to regard it as legend. At any rate, the denizens of the American underworld acquired the habit from the Chinese, who taught them the ritual and the technique and at first supplied the drug. The Chinese influence upon the use of narcotics is evident in many words in the addict's argot. (14) According to Kane: The very fact that opium smoking was a practice forbidden by law seemed to lead many who would not otherwise have indulged to seek out the low dens and patronize them, while the regular smokers found additional pleasure in continuing that about which there was a spice of danger. It seemed to add zest to their enjoyment. Men and women, young girls, virtuous or just commencing a downward career, hardened prostitutes, representatives of the "hoodlum" element, young clerks and errand boys who could ill afford the waste of time and money, and young men who had no work to do were to be found smoking together in the back rooms of laundries in the low, pestilential dens of Chinatown, reeking with filth and overrun with vermin, in the cellars of drinking saloons, and in houses of prostitution.(15) The San Francisco Chronicle of July 25, 1881., stated that "the habit in past years, so far as whites are concerned, was confined to hoodlums and prostitutes mostly." It added, "Now that there are scores of places where the habit can be contracted in clean rooms in respectable portions of the city, the practice will gradually extend up in the social grade."(16) The rapidity with which the opium-smoking habit spread was noted by an anonymous writer in Chambers' journal in 1888: In 1877 and 1878 when Deadwood, the Metropolis of the Black Hills, one of the richest mining camps ever discovered in the United States, was over 300 miles from the nearest railroad, it was ascertained that the Chinamen had introduced the vice of opium-smoking among the white inhabitants. I was employed at the time as deputy sheriff, and received instructions to investigate the subject with a view to closing the houses and punishing the proprietors.(17) Action taken by local authorities was apparently not very effective, for former smokers state that as late as 1910 they were able to travel almost anywhere in the West without taking along either a supply of opium or an opium pipe, depending solely upon the dens that operated in almost all sizeable towns. The opium smoker of the nineteenth century belonged to an elite underworld group which despised and generally avoided all contact with the hypodermic user or "opium eater" of respectable society. Smokers usually regarded the hypodermic habit as more vicious and difficult to break than the smoking habit. They applied the term "dope fiend" to those who used the drug in some manner other than smoking, but did not apply it to themselves. Their attitudes were indicated by an incident that occurred early in the twentieth century in a New York opium-smoking joint. One of the smokers discovered a hypodermic user in the bathroom giving himself an injection. He immediately reported to the proprietor that there was a "God-damned dope fiend in the can." The offender was promptly ejected. Unlike opium eating, the smoking habit did not involve contact with the medical profession, for doctors did not prescribe it. Hence, the habit spread solely through contacts with persons who were already addicted, and this is the manner in which drug addiction in the underworld has continued to spread. A special committee of investigation appointed in 1918 by the Secretary of the Treasury stated: "with respect to the addict of good social standing, the 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 evidence obtained by the committee points to the physician as the agent through whom the habit is acquired in the majority of cases."(18) It thus appears that the association between addiction and crime in the United States was built up as a consequence of the rapid spread of opium smoking in the underworld during the last decades of the past century. Considerable notoriety and public attention was directed toward this problem. The fact that many thieves and rascals were opium smokers gradually led the public to the belief that all addicts were thieves or rascals and that there was an inherent or necessary connection between the use of opiates and a life of crime. As a matter of fact, the principal reason for the American addict's criminality is not connected with the effects of the drug as such, but rather with the high cost of the drug. In India where there is much addiction but where opium is inexpensive, there is relatively little criminality among addicts."(19) 1. Charles E. Terry and Mildred Pellens, The Opium Problem (New York, Committee on Drug Addictions and Bureau of Social Hygiene, 1928), p. 55. 2. Ibid., pp. 55-57. 3. Ibid., P. 58. 4. "The Sale and Use of Opium in Massachusetts," Annual Report of the Massachusetts Board of Health (1889), 22: 137-58. 5. W. R. Cobbe, Doctor Judas, A Portrayal of the Opium Habit (Chicago: S. C. Griggs, 1895), P. 127. 6. "The Opium Habit in Michigan," Annual Report of the Michigan State Board of Health (1878), 6: 61-73. 7. "Enforcement of the Tennessee Anti-Narcotic Law," American Journal of Public Health (1915), 5: 323-33. 8. Alonzo Calkins, Opium and the Opium Appetite (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1873). 9. Terry and Pellens, OP. cit., PP. 94-110. 10. J. R. Black, "Advantages of Substituting the Morphia Habit for the Incurably Alcoholic." Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic (1889), 22: 537-41. 11. H. H. Kane, Opium Smoking in America and China (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1882), P. 1. 12. Ibid., P, 3. 13. See Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (New York: Garden City Publishing Co., 1933), chapter 7. Asbury states that in 1852 there were an estimated 22,000 Chinese in California. In 1870 the number was 71,328, according to the U.S. Census. This author gives an excellent picture of San Francisco when opium smoking was introduced. 14. See Glossary. 15. Kane, op. cit., p. 2. 16. Ibid., p. i i. 17. "Opium joints in the Black Hills," Chambers' Journal (1888), 65: 654. 18. Quoted by Terry and Pellens, op. cit., p. 120 19. See R. N. Chopra, "Drug Addiction in India and Its Treatment," Indian Medical Gazette (1935), 70: 121-31; and Lawrence Kolb, "Drug Addiction in Its Relation to Crime," Mental Hygiene (1925), 9: 74-89. file:///I|/drugtext/local/library/books/adopiates/chapter9.htm[24-8-2010 14:23:39]

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