Monday, October 24, 2016

COCAINE FIENDS OF NASHVILLE - Early indications of cocaine use in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville American, October 23, 1899.


Something of the Baneful Habit of Continually Growing in All Cities.


Drug Has Become So Universally Used That It Is Put Up For Customers in Handy Packages Ready for Sale.

Much has been written about the cocaine habit, which has taken hold upon the lower classes in many American cities. There is possibly no habit among the many that are at present instilling their evil effects into the human race that has had the rapid growth that the cocaine habit has. The demand has been as great for the drug that the price has continually advanced, and in time, there is a prospect that the devotees may be cut off from the use for it by the price going to a mark beyond their financial ability. The present wholesale price of it in this section is $6.30 per ounce, which is a rise of almost $1 in the past six months. Nashville has its cocaine fiends as well as almost every other city in the country, and their name is legion. They are found among the negro race especially, the drug has driven morphine out of the business among those of the colored race who addict themselves to the use of such things. The local demand for it is so great that drug firms in the city are now constantly prepared for the run that comes in a day or night. The cocaine is put in in approximately 2-grain envelopes and kept in the vicinity of the cigar stand, where it can be handed out without delay. The 2-grain packages sell for 5 cents, and a first-class fiend will buy and use from seven to ten packages a day. There is one old woman in Black Bottom who has been addicted to cocaine for a good, long period, and her daily consumption is 50 cents worth.

On Saturday night one firm in the city put out for a night trade a supply of eighty packages. When the watches were changed at 6 o’clock in the morning there were only two left. The drug firms in the vicinity of Black Bottom and other localities occupied principally by negroes do a thriving business in cocaine. One Broad street house buys its cocaine in bulk and puts it up in lots of 1,000 packages to supply the trade, having a good-size box which is kept well filled all the time. It is estimated that the retail trade in cocaine in Nashville amounts to $100 per day.

The drug as it goes to the purchaser is in the form of a white crystalline powder. The fiend takes it through the nostrils by snuffing. [sic]The sensation is said to be one not unlike the produced by a small modicum of whisky – that is, the tipsy stage of intoxication. When a belle desires to create a sensation at the hullaballoo, or one of the male contingent desires to give a rough house on a small scale, she or he makes a purchase of cocaine and starts out for a good time. Continued with whisky, cocaine makes a well-developed fiend a hard man to handle when he runs amuck of the law. Among the regular fiends this drug is known as “coke.”

The cocaine habit in Nashville has appeared in the last two or three years. Where retail drug-houses formerly purchased an ounce to run for a month or more, supplying only the prescription trade, a much larger supply is required and larger purchases are being necessitated all the time.

Cocaine is obtained from the leaves of the cuca, a plant which grows on the western coast of South America. It was discovered in 1859 and was first used by surgeons as local anesthetic. Cuca leaves are used by the Indians in the countries in which it grows. They chew the leaves, consuming two or three ounces a day. The result is a powerful stimulation of the nervous system. Fatigue is borne with greater ease and nourishment of the body is not such a necessity.

The cocaine acts as a powerful stimulant to the nerves and a large dose of it tends to produce hysteria. When the fiend is compelled to go without his supply of the drug is nerves are almost in danger of being shattered.
Cocaine was not illegal in the “good old days.” It was common in this day and time to blame or characterize black Americans as the only users of cocaine. This was especially was this true in the Jim Crow South. However, people in white or genteel circles were known to frequent it and even morphine in Nashville and other cities. Recreational drug use and abuse is nothing new. The reporter of this story seems somehow to be quite knowledgeable about the use of cocaine, which perhaps betrays a lack of innocence on his part apropos the subject.

[See: Jones, DRUG ABUSE AND PROSTITUTION IN TENNESSEE HISTORY, (2012). Available on Amazon.]