Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy

Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research


Narcotic Addiction

By Perry M. Lichtenstein

New York Medical Journal, Vol. 100 (November 14, 1914), 962-66. The author was physician at the New York City Prison.

Several individuals have come to the conclusion that selling "dope" is a very profitable business. These individuals have sent their agents among the gangs frequenting our city corners, instructing them to make friends with the members and induce them to take the drug. Janitors, bartenders, and cabmen have also been employed to help spread the habit. The plan has worked so well that there is scarcely a poolroom in New York that may not be called a meeting place of drug fiends. The drug has been made up in candy and sold to school children. The conspiring individuals, being familiar with the habit forming action of the drugs, believe that the increased number of "fiends" will create a larger demand for the drug, and in this way build up a profitable business.

Many individuals begin taking a narcotic for insomnia; this is particularly true of physicians and nurses. I have treated many nurses addicted to morphine taken hypodermically. Others take the drug to ward off sorrow and care, and still others are compelled to take the drug because of severe pains caused by locomotor ataxia, cancer, etc. The number of young people addicted is enormous. I have come in contact with individuals sixteen and eighteen years of age, whose history was that they had taken a habit forming drug for at least two years. This includes girls as well as boys.

When once the drug has taken hold on these people, they will do anything to acquire a supply. The charges against dope fiends are usually petty crimes; they steal just enough to enable them to obtain a supply of the drug. Once in prison they will try everything and anything to obtain the drug. During my experience with habitues in the City Prison, I have witnessed many ways in which the attempt to smuggle in the drug has been made. On one occasion, a can of condensed milk was sent to a "fiend." The can did not show signs of having been tampered with. On prying off the lid, the searcher found a finger cot full of morphine in the milk, and a note to the effect that more was coming. On another occasion a package of cigarettes was sent to a prisoner; the government seal was unbroken. When opened, the cigarettes were found wrapped in silver leaf and upon examination proved to be loaded with morphine tablets. On another occasion two books were sent to an habitue. The searcher noticed a white powder on his desk. He opened the book, but could find no trace of a drug. He slit open the binding and found two packages, one containing morphine and the other heroine. On still another occasion a magazine was sent in, which upon examination by the warden disclosed a picture pasted on one of the pages, under which picture a large amount of morphine was secreted. The ways in which drug smuggling is attempted are too numerous to mention in this paper.

As to addiction among the different races, I may state that in proportion to the number of prisoners of each race admitted, I have reached the following conclusions: 1. Yellow race-Most frequently addicted; opium smokers and opium and yen shi chewers rarely take cocaine and rarely use the hypodermic syringe. 2. Black raceCocaine users, particularly those coming from our Southern States; also smoke opium and use heroine, the latter not as frequently, however, as the white race. 3. White race-Heroine, morphine, and cocaine users; frequent users of the hypodermic syringe; also smoke opium, but not as frequently as the Chinese.

It is rare to see a colored or a Chinese hypodermic fiend. White women, when once addicted to drugs, very frequently resort to the hypodermic syringe. As to sex, the male habitues greatly outnumber the f ernale.

It is interesting to note the nationalities, occupations, and social standing of those addicted. The Chinese, American, and Italian, in the order named, are the three nationalities most frequently represented, taking those admitted to our prisons as a standard. The Hebrew American is very frequently addicted. In all my experience I have had only one Greek who took morphine. Greeks, as well as Syrians, Turks, Swedes, and Norweaians are seldom addicted. Russians and Germans, recent residents of this country, are seldom among those habituated.

As regards occupation, the cases observed and treated by me showed that the employment of habitues required little effort and gave them plenty of leisure time. The occupations given were as follows in the order named: Salesmen, clerks, newsdealers, truck drivers, actors, stenographers, waiters and waitresses, and cooks. I have found very few who gave a history of performing very laborious work.

Among the women, in the order named, the occupations were actresses, nurses and saleswomen. Most of these had been arrested for soliciting, keeping disorderly houses, or shoplifting. The social standing of habitues is an interesting item. The greater number are of the gangster type and consequently are mental and moral degenerates. It is surprising, however, to learn how many habitues are of the better class. Physicians, nurses, and actresses, also some of the very richest of our people, frequently have elaborate "layouts" in their homes, richly furnished, and stocked with the handsomest jeweled opium pipes. Many of these people naturally never attract our attention because of the absence of marked physical changes, due to good surroundings, good meals, etc.

To repeat, we must stop drug habit formation. The rapid growth of this habit threatens to dwarf alcoholic addiction. As we know the terrible effects of these drugs, the ultimate results may readily be foreseen.


Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research