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Morphinism and Crime

By L. L. Stanley

Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 8 January, 1918, 749-56.

Within the past three years, at San Quentin penitentiary, over 100 prisoners have been received who admitted verbally or by their actions that they were confirmed addicts to opium in some of its forms. As soon as these addicts are received at the prison they re measured and photographed according to the Bertillon system, and are then turned over to the medical department for examination and treatment. Most of these men have just come from the various county jails where they had their potion, which usually suffices them until they reach the penitentiary. By this time the so-called "habit" is coming on and the habitue is a pitiable sight. after obtaining from the patient his method of administration and he amount he usually takes, the required dose to ease him is given,and soon his normal attitude and behavior returns.

It is at this time that information regarding his addiction and ts relation to crime, in greater detail, is brought from him. All of is answers to the questions asked him are carefully written down, nd later tabulated and studied with the purpose in view of learnng more about this dreadful affliction.

One of the first questions asked is as to the age at which he cornenced the use of "dope." Of the one hundred so questioned:

One, or 1% began at eight years;

One, or 1% began at thirteen years;

One or 1 % began at fourteen years;

Three or 3% began at fifteen years;

It is seen that approximately six per cent began when they were mere children, before they had completed the grammar grades.

Eight commenced at sixteen years;

Six commenced at seventeen years;

Fourteen commenced at eighteen years;

Nine commenced at nineteen years;

Eight commenced at twenty years.

Forty-eight began the use of "dope" between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one years. Including the three who commenced before fifteen years it is shown that 51 Yc or over one half of the addictions of this series are formed before the youth reached his majority.

Five began at twenty-one years;

Five began at twenty-two years;

Eight began at twenty-three years;

Four began at twenty-four years;

Two began at twenty-five years;

Thus in early manhood, between twenty-one and twenty-five years, twenty-four first succumbed to this evil.

From twenty-five to thirty years twelve began its use, and in the next decade, from thirty to forty years, a like number. After the age of forty, no addictions were formed in this series of cases.

It is seen by these figures that morphinism is usually acquired before the youth is normally away from the guardianship of his parents, and at a time when he should be guided by better influences. It is the time when his mind is relatively plastic and easily moulded.

The second question asked is: "What kind did you use first?" In answer to this, it was learned that fifty-eight began by smoking Opium, twenty per cent used morphine hypodermically, eight ate morphine, three ate "yen shee," the ashes of opium, and the remaining cases started by using cocaine and laudanurn, or eating opium. This shows that the greatest danger lies in the smoking of opium, for most commence in this way.

Contrast to this the answers to the questions as to the kind they used last:

Forty-eight use morphine by syringe;

Eight take morphine by mouth;

Twenty-eight per cent use both morphine and cocaine;

Three still smoke opium.

Others use morphine by mouth and syringe together, according to circumstances, while some take heroin and laudanum. In fact, after the habit is well formed, an addict will take anything he can get his hands on. This shows that although the majority started their addiction by smoking opium, they subsequently changed to using morphine by the hypodermic syringe.

Of course, it is difficult to obtain accurate statements from the addicts as to the amount of drug they use. Some do not know the quantity they take and others use as much as they can secure.

Eighteen per cent admit less than five grains a day;

Thirty-two per cent admit five to ten grains a day;

Thirty-two per cent admit ten to twenty grains a day;

Six per cent admit twenty to thirty grains a day;

Six per cent admit thirty to forty grains a day;

Four per cent claim to use over sixty grains a day, when they can obtain it. When it is realized that one-fourth grain is the adult dosage, it is seen how a tolerance for the drug may be created, and what enormous amounts may be taken without fatal results.

A natural inquiry has reference to the occupation engaged in by these persons when they began their addiction. Of the one hundred, seven each were waiters and sailors, six were tailors, five each were messenger boys, porters and laborers, while four each were showmen, race track followers, prisoners, teamsters, and school boys. Bartenders, gamblers, bookkeepers, cooks and idlers numbered three each. This is as to be expected; seamen, adventurers, actors, gamblers, race track followers; for the most part, the lower stratum of society. Waiters, tailors, and men of like occupations, after a hard day's work, seek relaxation in the peaceful pipe with their associates of like inclinations.

Knowing the relatively tender ages at which this habit is formed, it is of interest to find out just how the use of dope was begun. To this question there were a great many answers.

Fifty, or one-half, began by associating with bad companions at night, frequenting dance halls, saloons, poolrooms, and later "joints," where they were induced to try the pipe. Very few who ever try the pipe have will power enough to refrain from doing the same thing again at some future date when they are importuned to do so by their evil associates. Fifteen per cent were induced and educated to this addiction by women of the underworld, who perhaps took a fancy to the young man and persuaded him to go with her to indulge in this insidious vice. Eleven claim that they learned to smoke opium in jails and penitentiaries.

In the not far remote periods of the two California penitentiaries it was not difficult to have opium smuggled inside the walls, where men not cured of their addiction would use the drug and induce younger prisoners to be "sports and take a shot." At the present time, however, a close watch is kept at the prisons and no contraband is allowed to enter. But at the county jails no such rigid vigilance is in force, and it is said by the prisoners who have come from those jails, that it is a very easy matter for any one who has money to have the drug brought to him. It is in those jails that many a young man is induced to become an addict to this habit because he wishes to show his toughened cell mates that he can be as bad a man as any of them.

Sixteen others claim that they began the use of dope on account of various sicknesses, such as rheumatism, accidents, syphilis and other forms of disease in which there was a high degree of pain. In some of these cases, it might have been the fault of the physician or of the nurse that the patient found out what he was receiving for his pain and in this way led him on to his addiction.

One patient examined at San Quentin began by taking paregoric for stomach ache, with which he was troubled to a considerable extent. He was given this by his mother when he was at the age of seven years. From this frequent dosaore he acquired the habit, the persistence in which finally landed him in jail. A second addict stated that when he was in high school in a certain town in Nevada, it was a fad among the boy and girl students to visit Chinatown regularly, where they smoked opium. Another told that while in the Alaskan fisheries, he, with a number of other men, was given morphine to stimulate him to greater efforts and to work at higher tension so that all of the fish might be taken care of in a limited time without pecuniary loss to the company. At the end of the season, he was, with a number of other men, a confirmed addict.

Messenger boys in large cities are especially susceptible to falling into this habit. One of their chief means of income is derived from female outcasts of the under-world, who send them to obtain the drug. With these associates it is not difficult to be led to the addiction.

The longest period over which any of the hundred had been using morphine was thirty years, and the shortest was eighteen months, with an average of thirteen years.

The greater number of felonies committed by "drug habitues" are robbery or grand larceny. It is when the habit is coming on with all its attendant misery that the "fiend" goes forth to procure his drug at whatever cost. They have no fear; only one object in viewrelief."

One colored addict, accompanied by a female consort, herself also a user stole a motor-cycle in one town and wheeled it to another town five miles away, where they tried to sell it in order to purchase opium. Another addict is now serving a sentence for peddling "dope." He was a higher-up, and had many under him who disposed of the drug which he procured. He states that many of his former associates are now behind the bars.

One-half hour after having taken twelve grains of morphine, one fiend walked into the front door of a private residence in the day time, and stole jewelry and money.

A tailor, aged twenty-three, burglarized a drug store from which he took the total supply of morphine, and five hundred dollars besides.

Another "hop head," loaded with morphine, went into a room, and "frisked" the sleeping occupant's clothes of six dollars and a half.

One other addict entered a house, which was being newly furnished, and stole the new carpet, making three trips into the house to complete the operation.

Another is serving a sentence for pimping. He says that if it had not been for morphine, he would not have been pimping. His consort taught him the morphine habit.

Still another, in need of morphine, passed one cent pieces of old coinage for ten dollar gold coins. In many cases he was successful. Opium led him into crime once before when he was sentenced to prison for pocket picking.

One other who was a "twilight prowler" is now serving his third term in prison. "Had it not been for dope," he said, "I would never have been a thief."

Introduction to Part II

The nineteenth century was an age of faith in science and rationality, and experts offered many explanations for drug addiction and abuse. Their theories did not arrest the problem or produce many viable cures. In part, this reflected the era's transitional nature. Antiseptic operating procedures were barely a generation old and were not universally practiced. The medical profession was expanding, doctors were better trained than ever, and there was an explosion of research information. Yet the increasing volume of theory and fact often merely challenged old dogmas without creating new ones. And medical training remained narrow, however much improved. Most doctors were probably not able to analyze their patients' psychological or sociological problems. And formal psychology, though developing rapidly, offered few tenable explanations for the emotional origins of addiction or alcoholism.

The medical profession, however, developed many pragmatic 4ccures" for drug addiction. They often involved the use of electricity, hydrotherapy, or prolonged sedation. New sanitaria were devoted to treating alcoholics and addicts. Some doctors prescribed staged withdrawal from drugs; others counseled immediate abstinence.

Addicts spent untold sums on professional treatment and on widely touted nostrums, which often contained addictive substances. Addicts doubtless benefitted, if only temporarily, from expert help, especially if it removed them from the social or familial situations that prompted their use of drugs. But the rate of cure was abysmally low. Many addicts either became cynical or simply accepted their fate after relapsing several times or after hearing fellow addicts describe the many treatments they had taken to no avail.

The most commonly accepted theories of addiction's causes in the late nineteenth century emphasized inherited tendencies. Learned journals bristled with confident discussions of "high" and "low" brain centers that governed conduct; of poor nerve endowment, or genetic faults. Social tensions, translated into personal imbalances in weak individuals, were also allegedly high among Americans, who never walked if they could run, or rested if they could work. And the national penchant for experimentation and new things supposedly increased the likelihood of people trying addictive drugs.

The complexities of subconscious motivations, and the effects of inter-personal relationships, seldom figured deeply in analyses of drug addiction until the twentieth century. The alternate tendency to see drug abuse as merely one result of poverty or racism was also a rather late development. Though a seductive explanation, it failed to show why everyone of similar depressed background did not abuse drugs. In time, reformers simply turned from causes to consequences, and sought to make drugs unavailable.


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