America's First Drug Epidemic 1850 - 1914
When Chinese immigrants came to California in the 1850s to work in gold mines and then on the railroads, they brought opium smoking with them. It would be another twenty years before the "sporting" classes--gamblers, prostitutes, actors--began to join them.

As more and more Americans patronized opium dens and became addicted, communities responded with alarm and concern, especially when women and young people were among the curious. Cities and then states began passing anti-drug laws. Opium use spread steadily east, until by the 1890s, opium dens were commonplace in American life.

At a time when medicine was relatively primitive, doctors and patients gratefully embraced the array of opiates like morphine, laudanum (alcohol suffused with opium), paregoric (alcohol, opium, and camphor), and codeine. These drugs were easily obtained, and there was great enthusiasm and casual use. The widespread adoption of the hypodermic syringe made for faster,
more potent delivery of morphine. As one turn-of-the-century morphine addict bemoaned, "At first, habit only binds us with silken threads, but alas! these threads finally change to links of strongest steel."

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