Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last Songs From the Opium Den

     The opium den was an establishment where opium, in its processed form (see post: Ancient Remedies), was sold then smoked.
French Opium Den

     The dens were usually run by Chinese in China as well as overseas and were prevalent in many parts of the world in the 19th century - most notably, China, France, Southeast Asia and North America. Smoking (or eating) opium (such as laudanum liquid) was a 'limited' way of creating a 'high'.
     Both these methods of consumption would frequently cause nausea and an upset stomach. The history of narcotic abuse only begins with the poppy and opium. The modern age of narcotics, however, began with the invention of the hypodermic syringe in the 1850s and perfected in the 1870s.
William Gladstone

     William Ewart Gladstone (1809 – 19 May 1898) was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister four separate times. He was known to use opiates to 'appease his nerves before a great speech' and his sister, Helen Gladstone was a known laudanum addict. What is special about Helen, however, is that she also consumed opiates with the help of a needle as early as the 1840s.
     But the injection of the drug was crude and often painful, at first involving a simple cut in the skin then infusing liquid morphine into the wound. The invention of hollow syringes allowed more focused injections of the drug which were always subcutaneous (under the skin) or into the muscle, never directly into the vein.
Francis Edmund Anstie

     It was initially believed that, using injection and avoiding the oral or smoked route of administration, the same pain-killing use could be achieved without the addictive effects. It was thought that opiates taken by mouth (or smoked) became addictive in the same way that food was a necessity for life, an 'addictive' substance. Francis Edmund Anstie (1833-1874) of Westminster Hospital, founding editor of the influential British medical journal, The Practitioner, when referring to the use of injectable morphine, stated: 'Of danger, there is absolutely none'.
     A narcotic given subcutaneously or by intramuscular injection can be lethal if given in high enough doses but using this method of injection generally doe not produce the euphoria, the 'rush' experienced by injection directly into the vein. No one seems to have injected morphine by vein until the 20th century, when prohibition legislation in the U.S. turned opium-smoking Americans into users of intravenous heroin (1910).

     Heroin (diamorphine) was first synthesized in 1874 by English chemist, C. R . Alder Wright then adopted as a commercial cough suppressant by the German pharmaceutical firm Bayer AG (see post: A History of Heroin) and marketed in 1898...just in time for use with the hypodermic syringe. This new drug, heroin was, at first, believed to be so much better than morphine that the philanthropic Saint James Society in the U.S. mounted a campaign to supply free samples of heroin through the mail to morphine addicts who were trying to give up their habits.
     From the 1930s, heroin use among jazz musicians was common. Users reported the sensation of 'cool detachment' (the 'nod') and because it had the side effect of drying the mucous membranes, it allowed the musician-user to stay free of symptoms of the cold and flu. Not many famous 'users' in the world of jazz died from heroin overdose but many had difficulties with their 'habit' and, for most, their heroin addictions contributed to their early deaths.
Charlie Parker

     Charles Parker, Jr. (1920 – 1955), also known as Yardbird and Bird, was an American jazz saxaphonist and composer. The Cotton Club was a one of the famous venues located in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City which operated from 1923 to 1940. Aside from jazz, the Cotton Club was known for prostitutes, alcohol (during prohibition) and drugs. Heroin use was rampant in the jazz scene and the drug could be acquired easily. Parker had a chronic addiction to heroin which caused him to miss performances and lose work. He frequently resorted to playing on the streets and pawned his saxophones, for drug money.
     Parker produced many brilliant recordings but his behavior became increasingly erratic. Heroin was difficult to obtain when he moved to California and he began to drink heavily to compensate for it. Parker died in the suite of his friend in New York City. The official causes of death were pneumonia and bleeding ulcer but Parker also had an advanced case of cirrhosis of the liver and had already suffered a heart attack.
The Cotton Club

     The coroner who performed the autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker's 34-year-old body to be between 50 or 60 years of age.
     Hampton Hawes (1928 – 1977) was a  jazz pianist, one of the finest and most influential of the 1950s. Struggling for many years with a heroin addiction, Hawes became the target of a federal undercover operation in Los Angeles in 1958. Hawes was arrested on heroin charges on his 30th birthday and was sentenced to ten years in a federal prison hospital. Hampton Hawes died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in 1977, at only 48 years old.
Hampton Hawes

     James Douglas 'Jim' Morrison (1943 – 1971) was a poet and the lead singer of the rock band The Doors (see post: The Author and the Addict). Following 1967, Morrison developed a severe alcohol and drug dependency that culminated in his death at the age of 27 in Paris. He is presumed to have died from a heroin overdose, but as no autopsy was performed, the events surrounding his death and the exact cause of it are still unclear. 
Jim Morrison

     In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub and, in accordance with French law, no autopsy was performed since there was believed to be no evidence of foul play. According to one account however, Morrison died of a heroin overdose, having insufflated (snorted) what he believed to be cocaine. Morrison is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and has become one of the city's most visited tourist attractions.
     Kurt Donald Cobain (1967 – 1994) was an American singer-songwriter, musician and artist, best known as the lead singer and guitarist of the band Nirvana. Cobain suffered from chronic bronchitis and pain due to an undiagnosed chronic stomach condition throughout much of his life.

Kurt Cobain

     His first drug experience was with marijuana, at age 13 which he continued to use regularly during his adult life. He was also had a user of large amouts of LSD, alcohol and had a history of solvent abuse. In his family, there was a significant history of alcoholism, mental illness and suicide.
     Heroin came into Cobain's life as a way to self-medicate his stomach condition. Just before a performance at the New Music Seminar in New York City in July 1993, Cobain suffered a heroin overdose but rather than calling for an ambulance, his wife, Courtney Love injected Cobain with narcan (a narcotic 'anti-dote') to bring him out of his unconscious state. On April 8, 1994, Cobain's dead body (age 27 years) was discovered at his home. There was blood dripping from his ear and a shotgun pointed at his chin. A suicide note was found that said: 'I haven't felt the excitement of listening t'o as well as creating music, along with really writing . . . for too many years now'. A high concentration of heroin and traces of sedatives were also found in his body.
Sid Vicious
     Sid Vicious (John Simon Ritchie 1957 – 1979) was an English musician best known as the bassist of the punk rock group Sex Pistols. John was given the stage name Sid Vicious' by a friend whose pet hamster, Sid had bitten Ritchie and who then said that 'Sid is really vicious!'
     On 12 October 1978, Vicious claimed to have awoken from a drugged stupor to find his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen dead on the bathroom floor of their room of their Manhattan hotel. She had a single stab wound to her abdomen and appeared to have bled to death. The knife used had been bought by Vicious on 42nd Street. Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. He admitted that the two of them had fought that night but claimed did not remember what happened but that at one point during the argument Spungen had fallen onto the knife.
The Sex Pistols

     On February 1, 1979, a small gathering to celebrate Vicious having made bail was held of his new girlfriend, Sid having recently come out of drug rehab. At the dinner gathering, Sid's mother (who was once a registered addict herself) had some heroin delivered. Vicious overdosed at midnight and was discovered dead late the next morning.
     Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Glenn Colvin) (1951 –  2002) was an American songwriter and musician, known as founding member of the band The Ramones.
Dee Dee Ramone

     Dee Dee struggled with drug addiction for most of his life, particularly heroin. He began using drugs as a teenager, and continued to use for the majority of his adult life.  He died from a heroin overdose in 2002, found found dead on the evening of June 5, 2002, by his wife at his Hollywood, California apartment. Autopsy established heroin overdose as the cause of death.
     Janis Lyn Joplin (1943 – 1970) was an American singer and songwriter from Port Arthur, Texas. On Sunday October 4, 1970,while she was a member of The Full Tilt Boogie Band producer of the band, Paul A. Rothchild became concerned when Joplin failed to show up at Sunset Sound Recorders for a recording session. Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark Hotel. He saw Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche 356C in the parking lot and found her dead on the floor beside her bed. The official cause of death was an heroin overdose, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
Janis Joplin

     It is thought that Joplin had accidentally been given heroin that was much more potent than normal, as several of her dealer's other customers also overdosed that same week.
     James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (Johnny Allen Hendrix 1942 - 1970) was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter. He is considered to be the greatest electric guitarist in music history and one of the most influential musicians of his era. Hendrix is widely known for and associated with the use of psychedelic drugs, most notably LSD as well as amphetamines. Hendrix was notorious among friends and bandmates for sometimes becoming angry and violent when he drank too much alcohol. On May 3, 1969, while checking through Canadian customs, Hendrix was arrested when small amounts of heroin and hashish were found in his luggage.
Janis Joplin's Porsche 356

     On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London. From autopsy data and statements by friends about the evening of September 17, it had been estimated that he died sometime after 3:00, possibly before 4:00, but also possibly later, though no estimate was made at the autopsy, or inquest.

     The autopsy found very little alcohol in his system and only vomited matter in his lungs. Some have suggested that Hendrix also had heroin on board. According to his girl friend at the time, Hendrix had taken nine Vesperax sleeping pills (a combination tablet containing 50 mg brallobarbitol, 150 mg secobarbital and 50 mg hydroxyzine. This drug has since been withdrawn from the market in most countries.
Jimi Hendrix

     In the 1870s, Berlin physician, Eduard Levinstein wrote of a type of morphine addict who did not allow his habit to become the center of his attention, who is 'mostly absorbed by his art and profession; who fulfils his duty to his government, family and fellow citizens in an irreproachable manner'.
     Alas for the development of heroin and the invention of the hypodermic syringe which have allowed the opium den to be anywhere the user wants and, together, have led to many of the 'Last Songs from the Opium Den'.
     *The history of drug addiction: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Opium Den

     'Opium smoking,' said a 19th century druggist, 'is almost entirely confined to the Chinese and they seem to thrive on it. Very few others hit the pipe.'
Thomas Syndenham
     'Among the remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium.'  - Thomas Sydenham (1624 - 1689), English physician.
     These are quotes from two professionals in health care. Opium was well recognized as beneficial but its addictive effects in the west were poorly appreciated.
     Opium smoking was common place in China before the communist revolution of 1949. It was seen at all levels of society, millions of people using the drug  from rickshaw pullers to emperors. The place that the opium was smoked reflected the economic status of the smoker. For the rich, a private smoking room in the home was fitted out with rich trappings, including an opium bed, and decorated with calligraphic scrolls bearing auspicious sayings. For the poor, a public opium den was the only corner to indulge the habit, a place where low-grade opium could be smoked on woven bamboo mats surrounded by four bare walls. This 'public house', analogous to the English 'public house' or 'pub' followed the Chinese immigrant workers to Europe and North America.
Private 'Opium Den' in Canton

     The smoking of opium smoking arrived in the West with the thousands of Chinese workers and adventure-seekers who came to California during the Gold Rush of 1848. There already was an established practice of narcotic/opium consumption in the West with thousands of men, women and children fed opium or morphine concoctions for coughs, anxiety and anything else that might be 'wrong' (see post: Victoria's Secrets).
     But, within twenty years of the California Gold Rush, recreational opium smoking had spread over much of North America. Chinese immigrants also arrived in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and brought with them their practice of opium smoking. Generally, in these countries, opium-smoking failed to become popular with the non-Chinese.                                          
Caucasian Women in French Opium Den
     In Europe, opium smoking was sparked by Europeans themselves, travellers returning home from their Asian colonies or from treaty ports on the China coast. But it seems that it was only in France that opium smoking took hold. In a special cable sent from France to The New York Times, dated April 27, 1913, the reporter lamented the degradation of the French Navy due to opium smoking among its seamen.
     The city of San Francisco was the arrival port for most of the gold-seekers in 1848 and the city's Chinatown (still the largest in North America) became the site of numerous opium dens. Within a short time the opium dens were attracting non-Chinese residents, and the problem of opium addiction 'blossomed'.
San Francisco Opium Den

     The city passed its first anti-opium by-law in 1878 and even into the early 20th century, huge bonfires, fueled by confiscated opium and opium paraphernalia, were used to destroy the contraband drug. Even though the smoking of opium was driven underground, it was still common in San Francisco up until World War II. A typical opium den in San Francisco would be a 'Chinese laundry' with a basement or tightly-sealed back room. As in China, the wealthy tended to stay away from the public opium dens and smoked the product in their own homes.
     The opium dens in New York City were not as posh or as ubiquitous as some of those to be found on the American West Coast.  The New York physician Harry H. Kane (1854-1906) found that the most popular 'opium joints' were located on Mott and Pell streets in what is still Manhattan's Chinatown. Kane estimated that in 1882, 20% of Chinese in America smoked opium occasionally and 15% smoked the drug on a daily basis.
Opium Smoking Paraphrenalia

     In the beginning, most of the opium smoked in America was smoked by Chinese immigrant workers but, according to Dr. Kane, a racial 'breakthrough' was achieved in 1868 when the first white man smoked opium in the USA. According to the doctor, the man's name was 'Clendenyn' and the practice of opium smoking spread rapidly 'among gamblers and prostitutes'. Non-Chinese opium dens were soon open in the state of Nevada in the cities of Carson, Reno and Virginia City.

     The maximum daily wage of a Chinese laborer was just over one dollar and the daily cost of the opium was about fifty cents. It wasn't long before the indentured worker had no funds to sends back home to China and his life was controlled by the secret Chinese gangs ('tongs') which controlled the opium supply. In Canada, Chinese immigrants established Chinatowns on the west coast in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. In both these cities, opium dens were common in the late 19th and even into the early 20th centuries. When the city of San Francisco began taxing imported opium for smoking, the trade was diverted to the Canadian west coast and, from there, much of the opium was smuggled south into the United States.

     In France, opium-smoking was introduced by French expatriates returning home from stints in French Indochina, the French possessions in Asia, today's Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.. By the early 20th century, there were numerous opium dens in France's port cities, particularly Marseilles, Toulon, and Hyeres.
The Portrait of Dorian Grey

     In London, the Chinese population was always small and the stories of opium dens and their associated (criminal) activities are likely all fiction. There is no photographic evidence of opium smokers in London and no firm evidence of established opium den. Oscar Wilde wrote about opium dens in his novel 'The Portrait of Dorian Grey' (1891) but largely these dens in Britain were fictitious but the idea, a good source for material.

     But even in the poor cities of the world, there was more to the opium den than just four walls and a bamboo mat. At its most basic, opium smoking could be accomplished with three key pieces of paraphernalia: the opium pipe, the opium lamp, and the opium needle. For smokers with no limits on time or money, there were numerous accoutrements crafted in materials both common and precious.
Opium Pipes with Bowls Attached

     The pipe-bowl is what set the opium pipe apart from all other pipes for smoking. This device was made from fired earthenware with pipe-bowls of the late 18th through early 20th centuries depicting Chinese motifs and iconography. Dragons, phoenixes, animals, and symbols representing longevity, wealth, and happiness as well as Buddhist and Taoist deities were all used to adorn the smoker's pipe.

     Many types of Asian pipes are mistaken for opium pipes, but there is only true opium pipe: one that was designed to vaporize the drug, not burn it. This was achieved by the means of a highly specialized pipe-bowl. The bowl, which looks like a door knob, was attached to a long stem by means of a metal fitting, referred to in English as a 'saddle'. The length of an opium pipe varied from approximately 15 inches (40cm) to about 22 inches (56cm). The most common material from which pipe stems were made was bamboo, but Chinese artisans experimented with ivory, jade, horn, porcelain, as well as enamels.

Opium Needles
     Opium needles were thin steel rods, essential to the smoking process. These devices were approximately six inches (15cm) long. A 'pill' of opium was skewered onto the sharp end of the needle and then heated over the lamp before being placed upon the pipe-bowl.

     Heat rather than light, was the purpose of an opium lamp. Opium was meant to be vaporized, not burned. The drug vaporized at low temperature, so an opium lamp was an oil lamp whose purpose was to harness and channel just the right amount of heat upon a very small surface. This heat process was the reason for the very distinctive funnel-like chimney. Opium lamps were made from a vast range of materials, most commonly brass and paktong (a nickel-like alloy), as well as glass. The cheapest opium lamps were mass produced from molded glass, while some of the most luxurious examples were meticulously crafted from layered Peking glass.
Opium Lamp

     The opium den fluorished in the west but 'prohibition' laws soon caught up with he practice of opium smoking. Legislation against opium smokers was passed in Nevad in 1877, South and North Dakotas in 1879, Utah in 1880, California and Montana in 1881, Wyoming in 1882, Arizona in 1883, Idaho and new Mexico in 1887 ans the State of Washington in 1890. New York City's last opium den was raided and shut down on June 28, 1957.

"I am engulfed, and drown deliciously
Soft music like a perfume, and sweet light
Golden with audible colours exquisite,
Swathe me with cerements for eternity.
Times is no more. I pause and yet I flee.
A million ages wrap me round with night.
I drain a million ages of delight.
I hold the future in my memory.
Also, I have this garret which I rent,
This bed of straw, and this that was a chair,
This worn-out body like a tattered tent,
This crust, of which the rats have eaten part,
This pipe of opium; rage, remorse, despair;
This soul at pawn and this delirious heart."

Arthur Symons
     * The history of narcotics use: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle