DRUGGED TO DEATH PART 2

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Stanley
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DRUGGED TO DEATH PART 2

Post by Stanley » 17 Sep 2014, 05:03

DRUGGED TO DEATH (PART TWO)

Last week we looked at public attitudes to the use of opiates, drugs which we now regard as illegal and dangerous. Buying an ounce of Laudanum over the counter at the chemist’s in Barlick was as common as getting aspirin is today. There was another factor at work, medical care, apart from being primitive, cost money, there was no NHS. People of my age (I was born in 1936) and previous generations were quite happy with home remedies and self-medication, it was quick, cheap and in most cases, very effective. So, if you had a problem that you thought could be cured by spending a penny at the chemist’s shop you simply went ahead and did it. Anyone using opiates for pain relief or treatment of an ailment was simply doing what the doctor would have done. However, there was one enormous and dangerous area where these drugs were used for entirely different reasons.

You will no doubt remember previous articles where I have laid out the concept of ‘the family wage’ which was current in the textile areas. Children were put out to work as soon as possible and tipped up their wage in return for pocket money. In a large family this enhanced income resulted in house purchase and if combined with the father gaining promotion to a skilled job perhaps even building a row of houses. Buying a shop for the mother to run was common, this was the genesis of the ‘corner shop’. These strategies meant that in retirement there was sufficient income to lead a comfortable life bearing in mind that there was no state pension. So, a young couple’s best route upwards was to have children, save money, and avoid the workhouse and Parish Relief in old age.

There is an obvious problem here, during childbirth and child-rearing the children were a liability because they prevented the mother from working and contributing a wage to help support the investment in children. This resulted in two strategies; getting back to work as soon as possible after the birth and farming the infants out with child-minders during the day. In some cases, grandparents were able to help, Arthur Entwistle recalls being carried under his mother’s shawl to his Granny’s on Orchard Street. He was one of the lucky ones as he got one-to-one care. Parents without relations in the town had to use the services of older women past the age of useful work in the mill who took in children and often combined another occupation such as taking in washing in order to survive.

Anyone who has reared children knows how demanding they can be and this was the last thing a childminder wanted, they needed to put the infants down and get on with other tasks. There was an easy and efficient way out, they simply dosed the child with an opiate and left them to sleep. If one dose didn’t do the trick they gave them more. Problem solved, but at what cost?

I have never found direct evidence of this practice in Barnoldswick but this is where Reach’s investigations in Lancashire and Yorkshire have value. There is no reason to suppose that what he found was in any way different to what was happening in Barlick. Here is one of his accounts: “An intelligent male operative in the Messrs. Morris's mill in Salford stated that he and his wife put out their first child to be nursed. The nurse gave the baby “sleeping stuff” and it died in nine weeks. …… The mother had to get up at four o'clock and carry it to the nurse's every morning but the distance was too far for her to suckle it at noon so the child had no milk until the nurse brought it home at night. The mother can often smell laudanum in the child's breath when it comes home. As for mothers themselves, they give the “sleeping stuff” principally at night to secure their own rest.” This service cost the parents 3/6 (17p) a week. Again from Reach: “Another operative in the same mill gave the following evidence: He had put out one child to nurse, and he and his missus had sorely rued it ever since. The child, a girl, had never been healthy or strong, and the doctors told them when she was 14 months old that she had been dosed.” This service cost 5/- (25p) a week but enabled the mother to earn 15/-.

We have other evidence as well. The following report appeared in the Lincolnshire Times on January 8, 1856: “On Thursday morning Mr Coroner Hitchins held an inquest on the body of Thomas Porter, a child aged 15 months. The deceased had been well up to the night of its death when about 12 o'clock it was convulsed but recovered and went to sleep and at about 5 o'clock it was dead. Every effort was made to conceal the fact of occasionally administering laudanum, but it was at length admitted. The mother of the deceased, a widow, ….. showed strong evidence of the effects of opium taking; sunken eyes, emaciated cheeks and an enfeebled frame. After a due caution had been given to the mother of the deceased against contracting a habit and indulgence in opium, which had produced so much evil, the jury returned a verdict that the death of the deceased was sudden but whether from an opiate injudiciously given the evidence was not satisfactory.” Again, the following appeared in the Nottingham Journal on December 20, 1845: “Inquest into the death of Mira Newton, 17 weeks, revealed that the child had been habituated since birth to the "infants mixture to keep it quiet". The dose proved too strong and brought on a convulsion which led to her death. Verdict: natural death accelerated by an overdose of a certain narcotic called Infants Mixture, or Godfrey's Cordial administered by the mother, she being ignorant of its effects.”

Another druggist told Reach that when he was an apprentice twenty years ago (1829) in a country place principally inhabited by hand-loom weavers, his master used to make Godfrey in a large boiler by twenties and thirties of gallons at a brew.

These cases show that misuse of drugs as pacifiers was widespread and also highlight the dangers of an overdose. Reach found evidence that local chemists made up their own version of ‘Godfrey’s Cordial’ and in the words of one retailer; “Children are drugged either with Godfrey's Cordial or stronger decoctions of opium. Every druggist makes his own Godfrey, and the stronger he makes it, the faster it is bought.” This variation in strength could result in an unintentional fatal dose caused by the pursuit of greater sales and profit by the chemist. The pacifiers came under a variety of names; Mother's Helper. Infant's Quietness. Atkinson's Preservative. Dalby's Carminative. Soothing Syrup. James’ Fever mixture and many other local varieties. The thing they had in common was the inclusion of opiates and a comforting name which gave no hint of the danger they posed.

Evidence like this leaves me in little doubt, we are safe in assuming that similar practices went on in Barnoldswick, indeed, anywhere where there was economic pressure on the workers and a handy source of opiates. One word of caution, we should not be too quick to condemn these people for what they did. They were under immense economic stress and as I have indicated above, these drugs were universally seen as friends and comforters by all classes of society. It was only when some accident of usage resulted in illness or death that the dangers became apparent and even this would be regarded as ‘accidental’ overdose.

By the end of the 19th century other pain-killers were manufactured, the principal one being Aspirin and pressure grew in the system for better control of the opiate drugs. This resulted in 1920 in the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act and the practice of drugging children with opiates to pacify them passed into history.

Or did it? In the course of researching this subject I have asked questions and was surprised to learn that certain modern children’s medicines, though never described as ‘pacifiers’, are well known to have this effect. So, contrary to my belief, drugs capable of ‘pacifying’ children can still be bought over the counter in Barlick. There is also the thorny question of the use of prescription drugs such as Ritalin, a central nervous system stimulant used in the treatment of narcolepsy in adults and attention deficit disorder in children, this contains methylphenidate which produces a calming effect.

So, as is often the case, my probing into history answer one question about the use of pacifiers to manage children but raises another disturbing thought. One thing struck me which connects the case of the poor textile workers we have been looking at with today’s world. Economic pressures have forced many mothers back into the workplace just as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. Use of the crèche and nursery school is the modern version of the childminder. Have the stresses and pressures of modern life made us take another retrograde step? Are we still drugging our children to pacify them and in some cases, could they be Drugged to Death?

I found another, even more disturbing example of the use of pacifiers. Research published in the British Medical Journal in March 2003 focused on 698 elderly people in Bristol, of whom 172 were nursing home residents. Although the nursing home residents on the whole had fewer medically diagnosed problems, they were being given more drugs than the elderly people living at home. The authors found 28% were on anti-psychotic drugs compared to 11% of those living at home, they were also three times more likely to receive a laxative. The conclusion the researchers reached confirmed suggestions of inappropriate drug use in elderly people, particularly in nursing homes.

Even Reach, in his investigations of 1849 into the worst conditions of British society, raised no question of drugs being used to manage old people. Is what I have reported progress?


SCG/17 July 2005
1700 words.

No picture this week.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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Re: DRUGGED TO DEATH PART 2

Post by Stanley » 11 Oct 2016, 03:24

Bumped.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: DRUGGED TO DEATH PART 2

Post by Stanley » 11 Feb 2019, 06:24

Bumped again to follow the first part.....
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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