The New York Times August 2, 1908
THE GROWING MENACE OF
THE USE OF COCAINE
By Dr J Leonard Corning
Of cocaine, the most insidious of known narcotics--- a drug that wrecks its victim more swiftly and surely than opium--- there is an enormous quantity being used in this country. Despite the enactment of drastic laws looking to the suppression of illicit traffic in the deadly drug it is estimated that between 125,000 and 175,000 ounces are annually consumed in this country, the greater part in New York City.
The drug has many legitimate uses, but of the vast quantity annually consumed it is estimated that fully 50,000 ounces goes to wreck the bodies, minds, and souls of its unhappy victims. More swift and terrible in its after-effects than any of the narcotics, its use, through the greed of unscrupulous druggists, through insidious patent medicines which contain the drug, and through peddlers who make secret and furtive sales of "coke," has spread to alarming proportions.
In the accompanying article the manufacture of the drug is described, members of the medical profession tell of the uses of the drug and of the terrible effects of its misuse. The effort being made to break up the illicit traffic in the drug is also described.
Brought Within Reach of Its Victims by Secret Means, It Has Become the Most Widespread as It Is the Most Insidious of Deadly Drugs.
SINCE the passage of the Smith Anti-Cocaine bill last year and the crusade of the Department of Health against the drug, which has practically stopped the open sale of "coke" in the city, peddlers, poor, unmoral creatures of the underworld, have sprung up to ply a thriving trade in dispensing the drug among the victims of the habit. Seventh Avenue, between Twenty-eighth and Thirty-third Streets, has come to be known as "Poison Row" for the ease with which the drug can be obtained in the neighborhood and the fact that around these corners the peddlers make their headquarters and send out their agents.
The cocaine habit is pronounced by physicians and neurologists to be the most terrible vice ever acquired by a civilized people, in the havoc that it works upon the mental, moral, and physical life of a person that acquires it. Cocaine, the drug, the discovery of which was hailed by surgeons as an inestimable boon, in making possible local anaesthesia in minor surgical operations, in a very short time proved little less than a curse to a certain class of American society. The dull white crystals, which look not unlike fine rock candy, contain the most insidious effects of any known drug.
The Spread of the Drug.
It was soon learned that the terrible reactions which are suffered by the morphine and opium taker could be entirely overcome by a little cocaine. The after effects of the new drug were even worse than those which it was taken to alleviate, but with the usual short-sightedness of these mental degenerates, who cannot look outside the present, it continued to be used, in the realization that "there was more where that came from" The drug began to be used in the composition of certain catarrh powders and other proprietary medicines. People acquired the habit without knowing just what they were doing, or what it was that influenced them to the contraction of a craving for a certain medicine that it alone could satisfy.
The use of the drug spread. Young men and girls got hold of it, first in a spirit of investigation and curiosity, then to find themselves bound fast to the wheels of the chariot. The country was slow to awaken to a realization of the menace that confronted it. But when the eyes of the people were finally opened they worked fast. The "patent medicines" containing the drug were driven off the market or their makers compelled to leave cocaine out of their composition. The unscrupulous druggists who had fostered the illegitimate traffic for the enormous gain that it brought them were run to cover, and either forced to discontinue the open sale of the drug or were sent to the penitentiary. To-day many honest drug dealers refuse to handle cocaine at all, even for use in filling the prescriptions of reputable physicians.
James Forbes, the sociological investigator and writer, speaking of the growth and establishment of the habit, says: "The abuse of cocaine for purposes of stimulating exhausted physical and mental natures has spread rapidly throughout the United States during the past decade. Perhaps one of the reasons for its so rapid spread and use by the poorest and most depraved classes is because of its ready accessibility to purchase and use alike. Certain brands of alleged catarrh cures openly on sale furnish the victims and parasites of the vice a ready excuse and obviate the need of secrecy in sale or purchase.
"Blowing the Birney's."
"In its use, too, requiring as it does none of the sometimes elaborate paraphernalia, associated with the abuse of opium and morphine, it appeals to the most wretched classes of drug victims in the cities, to the negro field hands of the South, as well as to the tramp in his 'jungle.'
"'Blowing the Birney's' is the colloquial term for the vice among its city victims and the police. An ordinary catarrh snuff tube and bulb is all the apparatus required even by the nicer victims. The mass simply snuff the stuff up from the palm or from between thumb and forefinger. My experience is that in cities the human dregs of 'Tenderloin,' 'Chinatown,' and 'Bowery' districts resort to 'coke ' (cocaine) after exhausting the superior possibilities of 'hop' (opium) and 'white stuff,' (morphine.)
"The 'coke peddler' is a familiar figure in the back rooms of saloon dives throughout the country and every 'red-light district' has a drug store which caters especially to the 'coke' and other 'fiends.' The use of 'coke' is probably much more widely spread among negroes than among whites. 'Heaven dust' they call it. Its use by negro field hands in the South has spread with appalling swiftness and results. There is little doubt but that every Jew peddler in the South carries the stuff, although many States have lately made its sale a felony."
"The terrible effects of the use of drugs as stimulants are only too frequently observed by agents and visitors of the Charity Organization Society," says an officer of the organization. "Such cases of dependency are among the most pitiful and the most hopeless of ail those who call upon the society for its help. Heartrending the tales they tell of the initial use of the drug, given, perhaps, to deaden the pain following an operation, and then of the ease with which compliant druggists could be found. Then the horror when the growth of the drug tendency into a drug habit was noticed. Then the alienation from wife and relatives. Then the casual labor, the struggle to get 'the price' for the drug, the wretched lodging-house life, the loss of self-respect and health, and the rapid slump to wretched addiction to the drug when despair has gained possession of the mind,"
Dr. J. Leonard Corning, a prominent neurologist of this city, the man who, above all others, has contributed more to the benefits to be derived from the legitimate use, of the drug, discovering in 1885 that the injection of cocaine could bring about spinal anaesthesia, making it possible for a patient to calmly read a newspaper while his leg is being cut off, says of the habit:
"It is a remarkable but incontestable fact that many of the most useful remedies employed in medicine are, when taken in excessive doses, or when misapplied through Ignorance, nothing more nor less than poisonous. In some instances these substances exert their influence predominantly upon one or several of the internal organs, and notably upon the kidney or liver, or both; in others, their effects are largely or entirely confined to the nervous system, whose functions they may exalt, depress, impair, or even extinguish. Conspicuous, and indeed unique, among the remedies last mentioned is cocaine, one of the most useful and at the same time one of the most dangerous agents which modern chemistry has placed at the service of the healing art. The scientific literature dealing with the manifold applications of cocaine in medicine, and more particularly in surgery, is enormous. No eye can scan even a tithe of these publications without carrying to the impartial mind the conviction that, with the entrance of such a subtle force into the arena of therapeutics, was wrought a veritable epoch in the contest of science with the tireless, pitiless ravages of pain. Alas, that candor should compel the confession that there is another and darker side to the picture; that, side by side with these histories of the achievement of legitimate and scientific application, there should be chronicled not a few of the most baleful and startling abuses; that certain human beings, lean on, as it were, by a greed of pleasure should wittingly or unwittingly, have bartered the rational services of the drug for a slavish, degrading, and destructive felicity. Unfortunately, the story of cocaine addiction is no longer confined to medical literature; it has become a common tragedy of the police court, and has taken its place among the important themes of medical jurisprudence."
Forecast of Cocaine.
"Great things," says Dr. Corning, were at first anticipated from the use of cocaine in internal medicine, and more particularly in the management of certain nervous and mental derangements. From the known stimulating action of the leaves, whether chewed or given in the form of tinctures or elixirs, it was confidently hoped that the much more powerful alkaloid would prove proportionately efficacious, notable as cocaine when sprayed upon the expectations have not been fully realized. It can scarcely be said that the therapeutics of melancholia have been greatly fortified by the introduction of the drug. This was the more remarkable as cocaine, when sprayed upon the mucous membrane of the nasal cavity, or injected hypodermically, produces pronounced mental stimulation. Yet this stimulation is not that of opium, but is rather midway between the effects of this drug and caffein. When taken in small doses by the -mouth, or hypodermically, there comes in a short time a sense of well-being and warmth, accompanied by mental clearness, an increased flow of ideas and a consciousness of augmented volition and ease of all psychical operations. A sudden access of optimism causes enterprises that erstwhile loomed impossible to take on an aspect of feasibility. There is a quick smoothing of difficulty, and the mind, regardless of the soundness of the premise, or the exactions of the syllogism, travels blithely forward into the quixotic realm of hurly-burly. In all this there is a close resemblance to mild delirium, yet the consciousness of environment is unimpaired; as witnessed by both the speech and the purposive actions of the subject. While the heart-beat is apt to be slightly accelerated and the pupil somewhat wide, sleep is usually unaffected. Such, it must be said again, are the effects observed when the dose of the drug is relatively insignificant, not frequently repeated and the habit yet unformed.
"When, later, the doses are increased from five to twenty-five grains, distinct symptoms of the poisonous action of the alkaloid appear. The period of excitation becomes progressively shortened. Hence the doses, large as they are, must be more frequently repeated. With this frequent repetition come other and distressful symptoms--- sleeplessness, headache, nausea, vomiting, impairment of the activity of the special senses, of taste, sight, hearing, smell, and even of general sensation, cramps, chills, profuse perspiration, irregularity of the pulse and difficulty of respiration, a sense of constriction about the chest, tottering gait, and constrained husky articulation, are other symptoms observed in the confirmed habitué. To these, in advanced cases, may be added prostration, uncontrollable restlessness, with faintness and a sense of Impending death. As the case draws on to a fatal termination, there may be delirium and hallucinations of various kinds, followed by convulsions and paralysis.
"Many persons who begin taking cocaine speedily add alcohol and opium, with a view to obtaining relief from some at least of the symptoms engendered by the first-named drug.
"Home treatment of cocaine addiction is entirely unsatisfactory, properly appointed institutions being alone suitable to its management. Nor is it possible to lay down hard and fast rules as to treatment; each case must be considered by itself.
The Bane of Nervous People.
"In view of what we now know of the action of cocaine, it is not too much to say that the use of this remedy by laymen should be universally discouraged both by precept and legal enactment. Above all things, the community at large should, with all possible emphasis, be discouraged from ever resorting to the remedy with a view to obtaining relief from worry or temporary depression, however onerous. This is a warning which all neurotic persons should take to heart, for they are in a special degree predisposed to acquire the habit."
Father James B. Curry, pastor of St. James's Church, was one of the first men in this city to become interested in the evil. From his vantage point just off the Bowery he early saw the hold the habit was getting upon the denizens of the district. When it commenced to reach out toward "his boys," as the Father calls the young men of his parish, he arose to combat it. The matter was taken to the Department of Health and an investigation started under Bayard C. Fuller, Supervising Inspector of Foods. A terrible state of affairs was uncovered. "Sniff parties" were found to be as frequent and informal in the Tenderloin and along the Bowery as "mixed-ale" gatherings. The weird romancings with which the press had been surrounding the "all-night drug store" for some time were found to be based all too strongly upon fact.
Then the question arose of how to ferret out those most responsible for the circulation of the drug and bring them to justice. The work would be dangerous difficult, and disagreeable in the extreme, necessitating mixing with all the Imaginable types of the lower classes of society under all sorts of conditions and at all hours of the night. Supervisor Fuller selected one of the younger inspectors in the employ of the department, Hugh H. Masterson. He was small, wiry, intelligent, afraid of nothing, and had been doing efficient original work. How wise was his judgment of the man is testified to by the fact that almost singlehanded be has stopped the open sale of cocaine in the city, landed half a dozen old offenders behind the bars, and driven out of business the man probably more active than all others in the illegitimate dispensing of "coke."
Similar cases commenced to appear with startling regularity. Finally an agitation was started for an amendment to the Penal Code, and after a long, hard fight, Father Curry, A. L.
Manierie, Chairman of the New York State General Committee for Safeguarding the Sale of Narcotics, and many others going to Albany and appearing before the committee, the Smith bill was passed. Several drug interests bitterly opposed the act, a notable exception being William Jay Schieffelin of the big wholesale house of Schieffelin & Co., who labored actively and consistently for a restriction of the sale of the drug.
Mr. Schieffelin testified before the committee that samples of the catarrh "cures" containing the drug were being given away in this city with the object of creating an appetite for them, and thereby increasing their sale at the expense of the moral, mental, and physical health of the community. Father Curry stated that the evil had spread so far and eaten its way so deeply into the life of the city, that the drug stores were becoming more of a menace than the saloons.
In the meantime Inspector Masterson was busy at work. Two days after the new act became a law he arrested Paul H. Caplan, a druggist at 295 Eighth Avenue, and so strong was the evidence against him that the lawyer whom the druggist retained to defend him withdrew from the case. The principal witness against Caplan, a woman of the streets, disappeared, however, and he was discharged.
Another of Masterson's captures was Augustus Boucher, clerk in the drug store owned by his brother Paul at 42 Amsterdam Avenue. A poor, haggard boy testified on the stand that he had bought his "coke" of Boucher after forging a prescription on a blank given him by the clerk.
Richard Flood, a negro, who was known in the Tenderloin under the name of "Pork Chops," one of the most notorious peddlers in the city and one of the hardest to catch, was finally arrested by Masterson and given six months. Margaret Lee known as "The Irish Queen," who plied her trade in the back rooms of Tenderloin saloons, Masterson had "sent up" for thirty days, Frank Smith, a cripple, who walks with two crutches, himself a "fiend," who made his headquarters in "Poison Row" and sent out agents with small quantities of the drug, to return to him for a new supply when they had disposed of their stock, was arrested by Masterson only a few weeks ago and given the full sentence of a year by Judge Fostor.
In the Tenderloin.
And still the traffic thrives. Only a few days ago detectives from the West Thirty-seventh Street Police Station followed several haggard, dull-eyed Young men and women into a tenement on West Thirty-sixth Street, and on the top floor found a room crowded with half-clothed creatures in various stages of the effects of the drug and the floor littered with hypodermic, syringes, opium pipes, and other paraphernalia of the up-to-date "dope joint." A few nights ago a policeman in Times Square came across a young fellow of about 20, without hat, coat, collar, necktie, or shoes, slinking along the curb picking up cigar butts, small pieces of paper, anything and everything and cramming them into his trousers pockets, while he mumbled to himself unintelligibly. He could give no account of himself whatsoever, and after he had been held for a few moments by the policeman, who had summoned an ambulance, commenced to beg earnestly for "coke." He had escaped from some "sniff joint" of the neighborhood.
A few days ago two most disreputable looking characters applied for admission at. the office of Supervising Inspector Fuller, at the branch of the Department of Health at Washington and Franklin Streets. When shown in they immediately put before him the proposition that they could "show him where he could get all the 'coke' he wanted," and they looked as if they knew what they were talking about. He took their names and addresses, and it is possible that they will be called upon as soon as the present cases that are being investigated are disposed of.
Fourteen young boys arrested last week in Newark in a rendezvous where they were holding a "sniff party" all declared that they had bought their "coke" of a peddler on Park Row.
Mr. Fuller receives almost daily pitiful letters from the relatives and friends of victims.
Effect of the Crusade.
One result, however, that has been brought about by the passage of the Smith bill and the crusade against the drug. "Birney's," "Gray's," "The Crown," and the rest are sold no more. Many of these "cures" have gone out of business, others have taken cocaine out of their make-up, and still others cannot obtain a market, some druggists not daring to continue their sale and more refusing to for the most laudable of reasons. A popular soda fountain proprietary drink which a few years ago contained a large percentage of the drug, and was denounced not long ago by Dr. H. W. Wiley, Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, is to-day made without cocaine. The makers of an extensively sold "tonic" have taken the same course.
Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of a plant native to Bolivia and Peru, called erythroxylon coca. The bush, which grows from two to three feet in height, is cultivated by the mountain Indians of these countries. A small amount is grown in Java, but it is of an inferior grade and little of it comes to this country. The leaves are small and tender, about the size and shape of those of the alder. After being picked and dried by the Indians they are exported, The habit has been found to be as old as the plant itself. The natives who cultivate it frequently chew the leaves when they are green, and an excess of this practice has been discovered to enable the Indian to go for days without food, supposedly on account of the paralyzing effect of the juice on the stomach.
The process by which the hydrochlorate drug is drawn from the leaves is a secret one by the application of an acid aqueous solution or alkaloid organic solvent. The drug is then purified by recrystallization. It is put up for the market in the small crystal "rock-candy" form and in what are called "flakes," which look not unlike dry snow, and is sold by wholesale for $2.50 an ounce.
Between 125,000 and 175,000 ounces are consumed in this country, the greater part in New York City, every year. Mr. Schieffelin estimates that about 50,000 ounces are used in the illegitimate traffic, which he declares is at least a third less than the consumption five years ago. The legitimate uses to which the drug are put are included in all applications of local anaesthesia, in dentistry, operations on the eye and ear, orthopedic surgery, and all minor surgical operations where total anaesthesia is not necessary. Surgeons claim that if they were deprived of the drug by the total prohibition of its sale, as has been frequently suggested to drive out the evil of its illicit use, a great hardship would be worked. The alkaloid drug is readily soluble, and is used in a 4 per cent. solution in almost all surgery where it is employed.
Mixing the Drug.
In the illicit trade the drug is mixed most frequently with acetanilid, which costs but 35 cents a pound wholesale. It is then sold most frequently for $1 a sixteenth of an ounce, bringing the unscrupulous druggist who wishes to enter this traffic a profit of over $13 an ounce. The peddlers ask, however, almost any price they can get. A favorite method of dispensing the "coke" is by means of a playing card, asking 10 cents for every spot covered by the powder. The cheaper and more unscrupulous of these men sometimes dilute the drug heavily, with even flour and sugar, and thus their profits are enormous. Inspector Masterson one night when he thought he had made a great capture found that the little box of "coke" which he had bought contained nothing more than common table salt. Another night he procured nearly a spoonful of almost pure hydrochlorate cocaine from a peddler's agent who was "hard up" for 10 cents. When a customer who has money to purchase in large amounts buys his "coke," it is given to him, in a plain wooden box, similar to a pill box, with a cross marked on the cover in lead pencil. This box is as familiar to-day in the Tenderloin and Chinatown as the "hop shell."
An Incurable Habit.
Dr. Graeme Monroe Hammond, the neurologist, says that it is absolutely impossible to cure the cocaine fiend once the habit has become fixed upon him. "There is nothing that we can do for the confirmed user of the drug," says he. "The best thing for the cocaine fiend is to let him die. He is of no use either to himself or to the community. Plenty of energy can be exerted with far more advantage in restricting the habit and preventing new recruits from taking it up. My experience with drug users has been startling. Over 80 per cent. of the patients that come to me with this affliction are either physicians or physicians' wives. But few of these people are cocaine users. In fact, almost never do I find one unless it is an old, confirmed taker of opium or morphine, who has turned to cocaine as a stronger and move stimulating narcotic. As a rule, however, the habit is found confined to the lower classes of society.
"The immediate effect of the drug is stimulating in the extreme. The victim jumps almost immediately from the depths of despondency to the highest elation and feelings of activity, there is none of the drowsiness or laxity that follows the nap of morphine or opium. The relaxation, is, however, as speedy as the upward change, and is violent. both mentally and physically."