When Infants Took Opium

A very short book excerpt

Opium use in England was completely unrestricted before 1868, when the first Pharmacy Act became law. It was the dosing of children with opiates that first drew the attention of public-health interests. The highest proportion of opium-poisoning deaths occurred among young children, especially babies less than a year old. Soothing syrups were popular purchases from chemists and corner shops. Godfrey’s Cordial, Dalby’s Carminative, Daffy’s Elixir, Atkinson’s Infants’ Preservative, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, and Street’s Infant Quietness were among the many preparations that crowded the market.

A series of public-health investigations into factory life, from the 1830s onward, drew attention to the connection between women’s work and “infant doping.” The campaign had a well-founded target but it was also myopic, for it ignored the extent of use outside these circles of workers. Opium was well used in the nurseries of the well-to-do, as advice books demonstrate. Pharmacy records show that opium solutions were widely dispensed for middle-class infants.

— Adapted from Demons: Our Changing Attitudes to Alcohol, Tobacco, & Drugs, by Virginia Berridge (published by Oxford University Press in February)

Presented by

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In