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Friday, January 12, 2018

America’s 19th-Century Opiate Addiction

Doctors in the 19th century had few tools to actually cure diseases and repair injuries, but they had one miracle drug that seemed to make everything better- opium. It was widely used in the American Civil War to treat the pain of catastrophic injuries and amputations, which often meant soldiers went home not only maimed but addicted, too. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. 
Opiates made up 15 percent of all prescriptions dispensed in Boston in 1888, according to a survey of the city’s drug stores. “In 1890, opiates were sold in an unregulated medical marketplace,” wrote Caroline Jean Acker in her 2002 book, Creating the American Junkie: Addiction Research in the Classic Era of Narcotic Control. “Physicians prescribed them for a wide range of indications, and pharmacists sold them to individuals medicating themselves for physical and mental discomforts.”
Male doctors turned to morphine to relieve many female patients’ menstrual cramps, “diseases of a nervous character,” and even morning sickness. Overuse led to addiction. By the late 1800s, women made up more than 60 percent of opium addicts. “Uterine and ovarian complications cause more ladies to fall into the [opium] habit, than all other diseases combined,” wrote Dr. Frederick Heman Hubbard in his 1881 book, The Opium Habit and Alcoholism.
As the 20th century approached, doctors began to see what so many prescriptions for morphine had done, and the tide slowly started to turn. Read about the rise and fall of opioid addiction in the 19th century at Smithsonian.

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