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W.C.T.U.'s Crusade Against Drugs

Drug abuse problems in Nebraska and the rest of the country during the late nineteenth century involved different substances than those commonly mentioned in the crime reports and arrest records of today. The Nebraska State Journal of March 12, 1894, editorialized on the Woman's Christian Temperance Union's crusade against drugs:

"An interesting discussion has sprung up since the W.C.T.U. has found it necessary to begin a crusade against the use of morphine, chloral, opium and a long list of other narcotics. On the one hand it is claimed that this warfare will result in the diminished consumption of these dangerous drugs, as the temperance movement has undoubtedly caused a decrease in the drink habit among very large classes of people. An opposing view is that a certain amount of stimulant will be used by weak men and women and that when one kind is denied something else will be found to take its place. The San Francisco Report even goes so far as to say that the temperance movement is largely responsible for the increase in the use of morphine and kindred poisons. 'If people who felt they needed a stimulant,' it says, 'could take a glass of wine, or even a drink of something stronger, without shocking their friends, causing remarks damaging their prospects in life, etc. the morphine vice and similar vices would not spread with nearly the rapidity they are spreading now.'

"This will, of course, be considered very pernicious doctrine by the W. C. T. U. and the fight will be carried on in radically different lines. It will be a long and a bitter warfare . . . . The poison can be taken stealthily at any time without much danger of discovery. It leaves no traces on the breath. Experienced medical practitioners say that it can be used for a long time without detection and when the truth at last comes out the victim is so far gone as to make recovery almost impossible.

"The W. C. T. U. has not commenced this crusade too soon. In the royal battle that is to follow it is hoped that the women will fight in a practical way, for it is a conflict that cannot be won by appeals to sentiment. Fighting the devil in the morphine bottle is a serious piece of business and the campaign must be conducted in a businesslike way."

(January 2003)



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