by Bronwen Evans
Okay, I’ll prefix that title by explaining that I write early 1800’s historical romance. Believe it or not, opium could be bought over the counter like a tonic until 1864, and was not restricted as a medicine until 1901.
In the early 1800’s opium, available in many forms, became the recreation past time of many. No one understood the addictiveness, or the side effects, relating to opium use. Doctors and surgeons didn’t even understood how addictive opium was. In fact, the word ‘addict’ in terms of narcotics did not come into use until 1907.
Many women were given laudanum for headaches and menstrual cramps, and children were given laudanum for teething and stomach upsets and other ailments. Working-class medicinal use of products containing opium as sedatives for children was especially common in England. They soon became very ill from opium addiction.
I have a new release coming 13 June – ADDICTED TO THE DUKE (available for pre-order). It’s book #1 in my new Imperfect Lords series.
My hero, Alexander Sylvester Bracken, Duke of Bedford is an opium addict; only in 1800’s there was no such condition. It made it very difficult to treat addiction when no one understood the effects. So Alex our hero in ADDICTED TO THE DUKE, kept using opium.
In 1807 during the English-Turkish war, Alex was captured by the Turks and became an opium addict. Two years later, on his rescue, his doctor prescribed the use of laudanum to help him sleep (he had terrible nightmares from his time in captivity). He therefore thinks it’s fine to use laudanum. No one understood that laudanum was as addictive as any derivative of the parent drug opium was.
English artists, writers, and other luminaries were famously experimenting with, and becoming addicted to opium, in the early 19th century. By 1830, British use of opium for both medicinal and recreational purposes was at an all time high. 22,000 pounds of opium were imported from Turkey and India that year.
Those using opium for recreational purposes seem to have been primarily English literary and creative personalities, such as Thomas de Quincey, Byron, Shelley, Barrett-Browning, Coleridge, and Dickens.
“Oh! just, subtle, and mighty opium! that to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for ‘the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,’ bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; and to the guilty man, for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure of blood….”
Confessions of an Opium Eater – (1821) is an autobiographical account written by Thomas De Quincey, about his laudanum addiction and its effect on his life.
I thought this poem beautifully sums up Alex’s problem…wounds that will never heal….it takes my heroine, Lady Hestia’s love to heal him. Her love is stronger than any drug.
For anyone who fights addiction. May you find the power of love and understanding.