Mickey Mouse & The Opium Canister

Popular Perceptions of Opium

For centuries, Opium was one of the few effective medicines in a doctor's bag... Every town of any size in the Wild West had its opium dens where opium and women were available to the dusty cowboys.
On of Thomas Edison's first movies was entitled The Opium Smoker and it treated the proto-moviegoer with a look inside on of the fabled opium dens, rumored to be in every city- traps for morally upright white girls especially. The opium den still evokes a powerful image today, serving as the archetypal "den of iniquity".
Leering villains and innocent teenage prey were not the only ones to become enamored of the juice of the poppy in those days. Many famous writers and artists used opium regularly as did the common folks. The upper crust made the distinction that opium's effects depended upon class or race. Laborers and Chinese people were believed to be more adversely affected by opium. Not so the movers and shakers. The wealthier were particularly fond of drinking laudanum, or spending a pleasant afternoon sucking on opium or even morphine throat lozenges. Winston Churchill was particularly partial to preparations containing heroin, according to family pharmacy records.
Poor slobs trapped in Industrial-era sweatshops used opium only when they could not afford gin... [a] night's drinking could easily bankrupt one of these wage slaves, so opium was a staple. It was used even more by women who were excluded from public bars, or by children for almost any reason, but primarily to bring on sleep or, tragically, to keep them immobile while mom went to slave beside her husband in the factory.
In America, perhaps a good tenth of the population was addicted to opium, and a higher percentage were frequent users. Figures of the exact number of addicts are difficult to determine because addiction had yet to acquire the political significance it has now. Numbers of addicts are deduced from the amount of opium consumption per capita, which was then a perfectly legal drug. In the 1890s, when opium use is believed to have reached its peak, the U.S. was importing more than 52 grains (330 mgs) per person per year. In 1883, the wholesome farm folk of Iowa supported 3,000 drugstores selling opiate concoctions. Historian David Musto estimates there were about a quarter of a million addicts in the U.S. at a time when the entire population was pegged at 76 million. At that time, most of these opium addicts were middle-class or wealthier, white women in their post-childbearing years.
At the time, opium was abundant, and sold by the pound in grocery stores and was used in about one-third of the medicines in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, tranquillizers and synthetic painkillers like Demerol have largely replaced opium and its direct derivatives. (pp. 38-39)


Opium Eater's Soliloquy

I've been cheered up at my chandoo-shop, for years at least two-score,
To perform my daily labour, and was never sick or sore,
But they said this must not be;
So they've passed a stern decree,
And they've made my chandoo-seller shut his hospitable door.

I've I'd only cultivated, now, a taste for beer and gin,
Or had learnt at pool or baccarat my neighbour's coin to win.
I could roam abroad o' nights,
And indulge in these delights,
And my soul would not be stigmatized, as being steeped in sin.

But mine's a heathen weakness for creature-comfort far
Less pernicious than their alcohol, more clear than their cigar,
They have sent their howlings forth
From their platform in the North,
And 'twixt me and my poor pleasure have opposed a righteous bar.

Sir Patric Hehir, M.D.
London, 1984
(p.41)

- excerpts from Opium for the Masses: Harvesting Nature's Best Pain Medication by Jim Hogshire (2009)

Mickey Mouse with Opium Cannister
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