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Heroin Crisis (1898-1922): Topics in Chronicling America

In the early 1900s, Americans began to use and become addicted to the narcotic drug heroin. This guide provides access to materials related to the early “Heroin Crisis” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"Photograph of part of the three million and a half dollars worth of contraband drugs, opium pipes and layouts seized by the New York Police Narcotic Division in the last year." March 19, 1922. The Washington Times (Washington, DC), Image 44. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Drugs derived from opium are called opiates. In 1898, an English chemist discovered a process to produce heroin from opium, which became the most addictive of all opiates. By 1912 heroin addiction in the U.S. was spreading rapidly with tragic consequences. In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act, which attempted to control the consumption of “mind-altering” drugs by limiting distribution to small amounts that doctors prescribed. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

December 13, 1912 Connecticut institutes a state board in an attempt to combat the growing heroin addiction crisis.
February 17, 1915 Harrison Drug Act targets non-medical use of drugs.
May 28, 1916 New York woman wins a key lawsuit against a drug firm after her son became addicted to heroin.
March 1, 1919 New York "Narcotic Drug Law" goes into effect, requiring anyone who works with heroin to register as doing so.
April 1919 The U.S. is reported to have the highest rates of drug abuse in the world.