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The Laudanum evil: Maryland's 1800-year opiate epidemic



Thousands of Marylanders have died from opioid overdoses in recent years, with an increase in fentanyl deaths. But our current opiate epidemic has a Victorian precursor.

BALTIMORE (AP) – Thousands of Marylanders have died from opioid doses in recent years, with an increase in fentanyl deaths. But our current opiate epidemic has a Victorian precursor.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, hundreds, if not thousands, of Marylanders died of overdose on laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol. Then available at local pharmacies, the drug was used to treat insomnia, headaches, menstrual cramps, colic in babies and much more.

The Baltimore Sun pages were filled with accounts of people who died after taking it, often driven by lost love, lost business, illness, and sometimes pure ignorance.

A respected sea captain extinguished a deadly dose in 1

879 after running into business problems. Gertrude Staleup, "Despondent of her Inability to Work", took a lethal dose in 1898, The Sun reported. Miss Simmons of Cumberland, 25, passed on the drug instead of dying from consumption in 1905. Perhaps it was the rarest case of all 7-year-old Lillie Benjamin, a Baltimore girl who died when her mother missed a bottle of stuff ipecac in 1896. The bottles were side by side "and the fact that the two liquids were almost the same color was one of the causes of the fatal error," according to The Sun.

Modern readers can experience the deja vu as they read the legislation proposed in attempts to kill the deaths in the face of increasing drug control – called "the evil laudanum" in a Sun editorial. "Another prohibition is required" warned an 1855 piece that argued for harsher drug laws.

But the value of opium and morphine trade more than doubled from 1898 to 1902, according to newspaper accounts ranging from less than $ 1 million to $ 2.56 million. Professor H.P. In 1902, Hynson of Baltimore warned that "the use of habit-forming substances is on the rise."

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Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com

Copyright © 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.


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