This section is from the book "The Human Body: An Elementary Text-Book Of Anatomy, Physiology, And Hygiene", by H. Newell Martin. Also available from Amazon: The Human Body.
Opium is a gummy mixture containing several active principles, of which the most important is morphia. The forms in which it is most frequently employed are (1) gum opium, the crude substance, often put up in the form of pills; (2) laudanum, an alcoholic extract of the gum; (3) paregoric, a liquid containing several substances, of which opium is the most important; (4) morphia and its compounds.
Opium is perhaps the most valuable drug at the disposal of the physician. On the other hand, it is one of the most injurious substances used by mankind. It may be that it does not do so much harm in the United States as alcoholic drinks, but only because not so many persons have acquired the craving for it. Used constantly it is as certainly fatal and the habit is perhaps even harder to break; for it may be indulged more secretly and its effects are not so readily recognized. Many a one of highest gifts and noblest character has gone under in the insidious maelstrom spread by opium for its victims. Using the drug at first as prescribed for the relief of suffering, he (or she, for more women than men are addicted to opium habit) is scarcely conscious of danger before being swept on to destruction. Most medical men now fully recognize the danger, and only order prolonged use of opium with great caution. Nevertheless there arc so many persons who habitually use opium that it is important to point out the disastrous results.
What is opium ? In what forms is it most often used ? Compare the damage done in the United States by indulgence in alcohol and opium.
The Diseased Conditions produced by Continued Abuse of Opium are fairly uniform. The first phenomenon is deadening of sensibility, accompanied by mental exaltation if the dose be small. This is succeeded by unnatural sleep, disturbed by fantastic dreams.
On awaking there is great depression of mind and body: often associated with defective memory, and a feeling that something terrible is about to happen. There is muscular weakness; distaste for food, without actual nausea; and an almost irresistible craving for another dose.
If the habit be continued further, mental and physical changes occur. Distaste and inaptitude for any kind of exertion; greatly impaired digestion ; deficient secretion of bile; sluggishness of the muscles of the intestines, causing constipation. The muscles waste, the skin shrivels, and the person looks prematurely aged. The pulse is quick, the body feverish; the eye dull, except just after the drug has been taken.
The final result is failure of the nervous system. Incomplete paralysis of the lower limbs is followed by a similar state of the muscles of the back. The victim crawls along, bent like an old man. Death finally results from starvation, due to complete failure of the digestive organs.
Why is opium more disastrous from one point of view? What are the first phenomena following a dose of opium ? What is the condition of the person on awaking?
What results follow continuance of the habit ? What is the final result ?
When morphia is used, a solution of it is often injected under the skin by a fine syringe. Prolonged use of it in this way is followed by all the symptoms of chronic opium-poisoning above described. The digestive organs are not, however, as soon attacked; but the punctures of the skin repeated for weeks, several times a day, cause inflammation and ulceration.
Children are remarkably sensitive to opium and all preparations containing it. Opiates should never be administered to children except by order of a physician. Many an infant has been poisoned by a few drops of paregoric or of some soothing syrup given by parent or nurse to check diarrhoea or produce sleep.