Victoria: A century of cocaine use and abuse

December 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm Leave a comment

Thanks to the Times Colonist’s new searchable 1858-1910 Internet archive, people can research any variety of topics covered by Victoria’s eminent daily newspaper.

One interesting issue is the appearance of cocaine, a substance that is very relevant today obviously, but has been historically overshadowed by the more notorious opiates: heroin and opium.

Cocaine first gained mention in the newspaper in the late 19th Century through articles reprinted from papers in New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle and other US cities that detailed harrowing accounts of the Jekyll and Hyde effect the drug had on its usually upper-class users.

Here is an interesting excerpt from a Nov. 8, 1885 article reprinted from the New Orleans Times-Democrat:

“I believe that cocaine attacks that part of the brain where the conscience and the moral sense reside. That is a rough an unscientific way of putting it, but it will convey my meaning. When cocaine has been given for any length of time the character breaks down. That is inevitably the result. The drug seems to be a direct connecting link between mind and matter. I can’t put it any more strongly than I have, that with a bottle of cocaine and a hypodermic syringe you could change the very best man you know into a creature fit only for the gutter.”

A few years later, advertisements offering cocaine-fortified wine made near-daily appearances in the paper. Presumably by this time cocaine was dispensed by druggists on doctor’s orders as word of the drug’s analgesic uses spread.

The first Colonist reference to Cocaine in a Victoria context is in a front page ad in the Dec. 1, 1892 issue promoting the well-known Keeley Cure for addicts:


If you are addicted to any of the foregoing habits, or suffering from NERVOUS DEBILITY, there is hope for you.
NO CURE, NO PAY. Correspondence solicited. All communication confidential. For terms apply to our address
W. C. SHAW, Manager,
DR. YARROW, Medical Advisor
Rooms 1 & 2, Burnes House.

Note: Burnes House still exists today in Bastion Square and is used as office space.

It is unfortunate to see that all drug use, including cocaine continues to grow, and that even cheaper, more devastating varieties wreak the kind of havoc 19th century citizens could only imagine.

Entry filed under: architecture, needle exhange, safe injection sites, social issues.

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