Thursday, August 24, 2006

Japan's Heroin Habit in the Roaring Twenties

I return once again to drugs in today's post. Here is a fascinating excerpt from Hong Kong's 1923 Imports and Exports office, which disguises some shockingly interesting material in a very mundane name. Today's subject is heroin. Of the seizures from Hong Kong of what was then become a very popular drug.

It had been created in the 1870s, and marketed first as a medicine in the 1880s - shockingly, to fulfill two purposes: 1) as a non-addictive drug substitute for morphine addicts (bad idea) and in cough syrup format for children (even worse), who seemed to not cough so much after ingesting it. The company that created it was the German firm Bayer, famous also for creating aspirin. In fact, the chemist that created aspirin, Felix Hoffmann, apparently synthesized heroin 11 days later. It was named heroin because of the 'heroic' feeling created by the drug in its users.

Now, to the report. That year, the Hong Kong authorities had confiscated 23,400 ounces, the first time it had reached these shores in any major quantity (given the volume and variety of substitutes). Given that one only needs 1/16th of an ounce for a nice hit, that was about 374,400 doses. Here is what J.D. Lloyd, the Superintendent of Imports and Exports, had to say:
Heroin made its appearance for the first time, and has apparently rapidly become popular amongst Chinese.[he refers here to the Chinese on the mainland -Ed.] Germany has rapidly regained her supremacy in the manufacture of Opium derivatives, the actual distribution of which appears to be still largely in the hands of Japanese or Formosan Japanese subjects. So far as could be ascertained all the drugs seized were inteded for use outside the Colony. In the Colony there would appear to be at present little misuse of such drugs. Canton has been taking drugs in small quantities and there is some indication that the trade there in drugs is reviving notwithstanding the facilities for the purchase of opium. [Opium divans of various classes were still legal at that time. - Ed.] Most of the morphia seized was intded for Amoy, most of the Heroin for Japan. It is reported that the demand for Heroin in Canton came from one source, chiefly, the manufacturer of a popular patent medicine.
There you have it. There is another interesting bit in the report about arms seizures:
The number of arms seized during the year was 1,685 including 11 machine guns; 148,343 rounds of ammunition were seized, and 32 convictions were obtained. The United States supplied the greater number, even Mauser Pistols of German manufacture being imported in large quantities from this source. The makes were Smith-Wesson, Harrington & Richardson, Colt, Mauser, Luger and Steyr. Most of the ammunition was manufactured in the United States by the well known large ammunition factories.[as you can imagine, a lot of these arms were going to competing warlords in China- Ed.] A certain number of Mauser pistols bore the marks of an arms dealer in Paris, France appears to have developed a trade in second hand Mauser Pistols of German manufacture; ammunition to fit Mausers is specially manufacturered in France. There were no seizures of Browning Austomatics which used to be popular among the pirate and robber class of South China. [!-Ed.] In three cases the seizure of weapons probably prevented a piracy, as the weapons were cleaned and ready for use, each with about 50 rounds. The crews of the steamers were undoubtedly implicated, but it was impossible to bring ti home to any single person.

5 cases of 108 sticks of dynamite, one box and 2,099 detonators, and 21 coils of fuse were seized. In one case the dynamite in large quantity was found in the crew's quarters, where smoking of cigarettes and opium was going on. In this case detonators were found in the Chinese cook house close to the open fire.
If Hong Kong at this point in history was no longer the wild East, China and all points north certainly were! And Japan, well, the Japanese were certainly enjoying themselves weren't they?

1 comment:

tim said...

1/16 of an ounce is nearly 2 grams, that much in a dose of heroin would kill anything alive.