Mrs Beeton on Opium

…or, more accurately, Mrs Beeton’s remedy for excessive opium use. It is wonderful that amid all the cake and roast recipes in her classic book, Household Management, due allowance is made for the household’s resident opium fiend.

Opium, and its preparations, Laudanum, &c.–Solid opium is mostly seen in the form of rich brown flattish cakes, with little pieces of leaves sticking on them here and there, and a bitter and slightly warm taste. The most common form in which it is taken as a poison, is that of laudanum.–Symptoms. These consist at first in giddiness and stupor, followed by insensibility, the patient, however, being roused to consciousness by a great noise, so as to be able to answer a question, but becoming insensible again almost immediately. The pulse is now quick and small, the breathing hurried, and the skin warm and covered with perspiration. After a little time, these symptoms change; the person becomes perfectly insensible, the breathing slow and snoring, as in apoplexy, the skin cold, and the pulse slow and full. The pupil of the eye is mostly smaller than natural. On applying his nose to the patient’s mouth, a person may smell the poison very distinctly.–Treatment. Give an emetic draught (No. 1, see above) directly, with large quantities of warm mustard-and-water, warm salt-and-water, or simple warm water. Tickle the top of the throat with a feather, or put two fingers down it to bring on vomiting, which rarely takes place of itself. Dash cold water on the head, chest, and spine, and flap these parts well with the ends of wet towels. Give strong coffee or tea. Walk the patient up and down in the open air for two or three hours; the great thing being to keep him from sleeping. Electricity is of much service. When the patient is recovering, mustard poultices should be applied to the soles of the feet and the insides of the thighs and legs. The head should be kept cool and raised.

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