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September 7, 1984

Secret Passions, Secret Remedies: Narcotic Drugs in British Society, 1820-1930

Author Affiliations

Wright State University School of Medicine Dayton, Ohio

JAMA. 1984;252(9):1186-1187. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350090062027

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This book does not quite live up to its suggestive main title, but does live up to its subtitle. It is an engaging account of the economic, social, and political history of the British experience with addictive drugs. The major orientation is to opium, with two chapters on its alkaloid, morphine, occasional references to cocaine, and a mention of heroin. There is an enlightening discussion of reasons for the initial acceptance and then rejection of such drugs by Victorian Britain. Opium was a cheap and readily available antidote for the harsh life of the time and more effective than the traditional massive dosing by physicians. Its addictive nature gradually became apparent, and nonaddictive pain relievers such as aspirin became available. The nature of addiction is not discussed in any detail, aside from the author's definition of it as a physical discomfort and craving on withdrawal. The fact that cocaine is