Opium Addiction Problem in Victorian Era


By CLAUDIA JOHNSON
Former Pulaski Citizen

After discovering the first advertisement for treatment of opium addiction
in the PULASKI CITIZEN in 1875, I became curious about why Nashville doctors
were buying ads in a rural paper. An internet search of this subject shocked
and horrified me. I had no idea that opium addiction was such a pervasive
problem, especially among the middle and upper classes.
I discovered that one of the leading causes of infant and child mortality
during the 19th century was the practice of attempting to quiet children by
giving them narcotics, such as opium and morphine and/or alcohol.
Although it relieved the pain of countless injured and dying soldiers during
many wars, including the Civil War, opium and its derivatives, such as
laudanum, morphine and heroin was a very common item found in most
19th-century medicine cabinets. 19th century editions of the Pulaski Citizen
carried lengthy advertisements for dozens of inexpensive opium based
concoctions under a variety of names, including:
"Godrey's Cordial" 
"Mother's Helper" 
"Infant's Quietness"
"Atkinson's Preservative"
"Soothing Syrup"  
These products were meant to quiet children.  The most popular "tonic" of
the time was "Godfrey's Cordial," which contained high levels of laudanum.
It was inexpensive, and it was completely unregulated.  Opium is fat-soluble
and does not dissolve easily in water.  Therefore, the opium that settled at
the bottom of the bottle---and was then given in the last doses---had the
obvious potential to be fatal, especially to an infant!  In addition, the
recommended dose was usually stated "as needed," which opened the door wide
open to interpretation and allowed parents to drug their children as often
as they liked.  Children literally became addicted to the "sweet-tasting
opiate." 
Other products offered relief for "female problems," making opium addiction
among women a major health issue of the late 19th Century.
"Ayer's Sarsaparilla Cures" "Prof. Low's Liniment and Worm Syrup" and "Wine
of Carday" were three products often advertised in the CITIZEN.
As I have read the many accounts of seemingly mysterious and unexplained
deaths of children and young women in the files of the PULASKI CITIZEN, I
have wondered if overdose of opiates could not have been the cause.