Notes From The Frontier
Cocaine Candy & Heroin Cough Syrup in the Old West
The 1800s, especially on the frontier, were hard and relief in a bottle was common. In the 1800s, opium was very popular, introduced first by Chinese immigrants working on the railroads. Opium dens were common across the west. Wild Bill Hickok and Kit Carson spent more time in opium dens than in saloons!
Alcohol was still the drug of choice and alcoholism was rampant across the West. It became such a common cause of violence and death that in 1810, drug companies came up with a cure: morphine! In 1853, the invention of the hypodermic needle made it easier to control the dosage so it wasn't deadly. During the Civil War, morphine was the most used pain killer and so many soldiers came home addicts, the U.S. had a massive morphine epidemic after the War.
In answer to the problem, medical professionals again came up with a miracle cure: Heroin! Developed in Germany, this wonder elixir was introduced to the U.S. in 1874 as a "safe, nonaddictive antidote" for morphine. Reputable drug companies like Bayer mass marketed the drug and it was given to adults, children and babies as commonly as aspirin is today. By 1925, there were more than 200,000 morphine addicts in the nation.
Germany also developed modern cocaine in the 1860s. It came to the U.S. as a panacea for everything from hemorrhoids to hepatitis and became so popular the country had a new epidemic on its hands. Freud was a cokehead in the 1880s. So was Thomas Edison. So was the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson who, according to his wife, Fanny, wrote "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" during a six-day coke binge. Even Pope Leo XIII was an addict, and carried a flask of Mariani wine, made with cocaine, under his robe. So fond was he of the tonic, he appeared in a poster for the wine and gave the company a medal!
Traveling "snake oil salesmen" roved the frontier with portable pharmaceutical wagons clinking with bottles of cocaine, opium tinctures, heroin, and morphine, and found eager markets wherever they went. Was it any wonder the West was wild?!
Posted May 15, 2019 on Facebook
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