By the late 19th century, the addictive powers of liquid morphine and opium was common knowledge. These addicts were called “opium eaters” or “morphinists,” and the most common route among the well-to-do ladies were patent medicines. Elixirs, tonics, and oils were all available at the pharmacy, through mail order, or by some helpful individual who peddled them on the street, but morphine could easily be added to brandy. Keep in mind, most women didn’t drink, nor were they allowed in bars, so it was far more socially acceptable to take a spoonful of medicine instead of a shot full of brandy.
Using a syringe and by-passing the stomach was thought to be a much better way of providing pain relief. Not only was it quicker, but by not digesting the morphine it was hoped not to be addictive since it was only in the muscle and not throughout the system. As we now know, this is not how it works. Some soldiers returned home addicted to morphine after the Civil War because of chronic pain. Thus, the portable morphine kit, the much smaller version of a doctor’s kit, was invented and often disguised as drink flask or a cigarette case. The most surprising, though, was the bejeweled morphine kits for women sold at the turn of the century.
Some of the trendy ladies had their own kits complete with syringes and vials, sized discreetly. And these weren’t cheap. They ranged in price from $350-$500. So instead of guzzling down liquor, because that was frowned upon, they were able to get their release by injecting into the thigh—that was the least seen area—a dose of morphine to help them float through a party, the theatre or wherever. The needles were reused and sterilizing syringes not yet common. They didn’t have those little alcohol pads to wipe the skin, either.
Makes you have glad for today’s happy hours or ladies’ night at the bar, doesn’t it?