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Q: Opium containing medicines ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Opium containing medicines
Category: Health > Medicine
Asked by: monroe22-ga
List Price: $6.00
Posted: 31 May 2005 18:58 PDT
Expires: 30 Jun 2005 18:58 PDT
Question ID: 527947
In the 19th and early 20th century, in the U.S., the use of
non-prescription medicines, such as "soothing syrup" for infants, and
cough medicines, containing opium was commonplace until the Federal
government prohibited their sale. My question is: Did this practice
cause widespread addiction, and if so,
are there data to support that?
Subject: Re: Opium containing medicines
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 31 May 2005 21:03 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
It's good to hear from you, Monroe!

Opiate-laden patent medicines of earlier times did indeed cause
addiction. I've gathered some interesting info for you.

"Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas de Quincy were notorious for their
opium dreams, but who would have thought that (as related here) Louisa
May Alcott, George Washington, and Florence Nightingale were also
habitues of the drug? Although opium's use spans millennia, doctors in
the late 18th and 19th centuries found it invaluable in combating
symptoms of the then-common plagues of cholera, tuberculosis, and
dysentery. Laudanum, a potent mixture of opium, wine, and spices,
became increasingly widespread, particularly prized for its
mind-altering qualities by artists, writers, and neurasthenic
Victorian housewives. Meanwhile, various patent medicines containing
opiates, including 'Soothing Syrup' for teething babies, sold at every
country store. The development of morphine in the 1820s and heroin in
1898 made opium more concentrated and more addictive."

Amazon: In the Arms of Morpheus: The Tragic History of Laudanum,
Morphine, and Patent Medicines

"In Britain's early eighteenth century... the various names given to
opium solutions designed for household use:

Mother's Helper
Infant's Quietness
Atkinson's Preservative
Dalby's Carminative
Soothing Syrup
Godfrey's Cordial

And various corruptions of the above names. As one might surmise,
these concoctions of opium were expressly designed for the purpose of
quieting unruly children. The England of the Industrial Revolution was
not a particularly pleasant place to live and work in, especially for
the lower classes. Eighteen-hour workdays were not uncommon.
Contraception was virtually unknown. The accidental bearing of a child
would prove grossly inconvenient to its mother; so would the extra
cost in feeding and lost sleep due to the infant's cries... The last
mixture on the above list, Godfrey's Cordial, was a mixture of opium
and treacle, and the amount of each in the mixture was the object of
intense speculation in an 1843 report commissioned by Parliament."

History House: Opium is the Opiate of the Masses

"There was at this time a vigorous patent medicine industry growing in
the United States, with widespread advertising of preparations
containing large quantities of opium. These medicines claimed to cure
just about anything from nerves to marital problems, but what they
amounted to were a source of opium, uncut and available to anyone with
the nominal price of a bottle of the elixir...

Throughout the late 1800s, the opiates (morphine and opium) continued
to be distributed widely in patent medicines. There was also a
widespread physicians' practice of prescribing opiates for menstrual
and menopausal disorders. Too, there was extravagant advertising of
the opiate patent medicines as able to relieve female troubles.

Women, it seemed, had become the prevalent class of opiate users.
Prescription and patent medicines containing the substances were
advertised and accepted without question. Also, this was a convenient,
gentile drug for a dependent lady who would never be seen drinking in

The extent to which alcohol-drinking by women was frowned upon may
also [in addition to opiate medicines] have contributed to the excess
of women among opiate users. Husbands drank alcohol in the saloon;
wives took opium at home."

Drug Action Network: History Of Drug Use U.S.

"One trick of the patent medicines was to advertise medicines for the
cure of opium addiction, when the preparations contained opium or some
derivative. Dreser, in Germany, 1898, produced heroin
(diacetylmorphin); it was put out as 'a safe preparation free from
addiction-forming properties, possessing many of the virtues and none
of the dangers of morphin and codeine, and recommended even as an
agent of value in the treatment of chronic intoxication to these

Prohibition Politics: The Opium Problem

"Some opium-containing remedies were abused for addiction too. Two
popular eighteenth century remedies containing opium were `Blackdrop'
and `Paregoric'. `Blackdrop' was invented by Edward Runstall of
Auckland and `Paregoric' by Le Mort of the University of Leyden.
Another popular remedy in eighteenth century England was chlorodyne
which contained chloroform, ether, morphia and Indian hemp. All the
three drugs were used to soothe pain and to cure dysentery, but all
the three caused addiction among the patients. Those who fell victims
to these drugs behaved like morphinists (confirmed morphine addicts).
Women were known to sell their husband's property and steal in order
to obtain these drugs. These drugs were withdrawn from the market long
before the twentieth century." Opium: The King of Narcotics

The patent medicine industry started its rise. Because there were no
restrictions on advertising, labeling, or contents of any products the
patent medicine industry made up all sorts of concoctions including
the opiates, cocaine, and other drugs, and sold them with the most
extravagant advertising claims. This led to a rise in addiction.
Addiction was poorly understood. Morphine and heroin were recommended
as remedies for alcohol addiction...

The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, forming the Food and Drug
Administration and giving it power to regulate foods and drugs, and
requiring labeling of contents on foods and drugs. The most important
effect on the drug problem was the demise of the patent medicine
industry. Drug addiction began a dramatic drop."

Drug Library: Drug Law Timeline

"Opium was commonly used as an analgesic until the development of
morphine. Morphine continues to be prescribed for relief of severe
pain, but fears of its addictive potential have limited its use.
Laudanum was used in the 1800s to promote sleep and alleviate pain;
codeine suppresses coughing; paregoric stops diarrhea. Medicinal
opiates were freely available in the United States and Europe in the
19th century, and the number of addicted people surged as a result."

Bartleby: The Columbia Encyclopedia: Opium

"A decade before the Civil War the opium-addicted population in the
United States consisted mainly of Caucasian women who legally
purchased opium-laced cough syrups and elixirs. Many took laudanum
(the opium poppy in its liquid form) to alleviate pain or settle
coughs and became dependent on the opium-based mixtures.

Surveys between 1878 and 1885 indicated that 56 percent to 71 percent
of opiate addicts in the United States were middle-to upper-class
white women who purchased the drug legally."

Poppies Shop: Opium

Here's an article that has quite a bit of information about nostrums
which contained opium derivatives. There are also some pictures of
labels from the medicine bottles:

Bottle Books: Dangerous Drug Bottles

My Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: addiction "opium OR opiates OR narcotics"  "patent
medicine OR medicines"

Thanks for a fascinating question. It's strange to think that, in my
great-grandmother's time, the typical dope addict wasn't a
poverty-stricken wretch in an alley, but a genteel, well-to-do lady or
her cranky infant; was, in fact, someone very much like my

monroe22-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Hi Pink:  Thanks for your well-researched answer. I was truly
interested in how addictive the opium medications were. By the way,
heroin was the first designer drug, very easy to make from morphine.
Today, any competent organic chemist can make new, unique designer
drugs, thus making legalization of narcotics a political

Subject: Re: Opium containing medicines
From: grthumongous-ga on 01 Jun 2005 05:10 PDT
...and today they have medicine men that perceive a syndrome called
ADHD and  prescribe concoctions of amphetamines that are expressly
designed for the purpose of quieting unruly children.
Subject: Re: Opium containing medicines
From: monroe22-ga on 01 Jun 2005 08:04 PDT
grthumongous-ga:  Very astute comment! Addiction to prescribed
medicine is of course socially acceptable.
Subject: Re: Opium containing medicines
From: pinkfreud-ga on 01 Jun 2005 10:18 PDT
Thank you very much for the five stars and the generous tip!

Subject: Re: Opium containing medicines
From: rhenium-ga on 02 Jun 2005 09:56 PDT
It's perhaps important to remember that opium also saved a lot of
lifes, by curing (the symptoms of) then common diseases like cholera
and dysentery...

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