On October 26th, 2017, President Trump declared the nationwide opioid crisis in the United States a public health emergency. Alas! This news comes 120 years too late for John Richard, a Philadelphia “Morphine Fiend” whose plight is described in the following article.
An extraordinary example of the terrible results of the morphine habit is John Richard, of Philadelphia. Richard’s body has been punctured all over by the hypodermic syringe, used to inject the poison, until now, after years of slavery to the drug, but one little patch of skin on his back remains where he may yet insert the needle, and after that there is nothing for him but hopeless misery, ending ultimately in a horrible death.
The picture of John Richard’s bared back and arms shows his awful condition today. The punctures are plainly visible and dot his flesh like stars in the sky on a clear night. He knows he must die, and knows, too, that with each new puncture he is driving another nail in his coffin. Yet stop he cannot. To stop means despair, a fiendish craving, to deny which is indescribable agony.
Richards was a Texas boy and well educated. After graduation from college, failing health, due to overstudy, compelled him to rough it on a ranch. On Christmas day, in 1889, with some cowboy companions, he rode into Waco to celebrate the holiday. In a barroom brawl his revolver was accidentally discharged, inflicting a painful wound on the forehead. In his suffering he implored the doctor to ease his pain. One injection of morphine and the pain was gone.
That led him on, step by step, to the indulgence of a habit that has grown with a vigor impossible to resist. Richards continued the use of morphine, not now to relieve pain, rather than to secure bliss, a Lethe-like forgetfulness of the cares of the world, a rest of the nerves and visions of perfect peace and contentment.
His fall was rapid. Ashamed to return to his home, he voluntarily became an outcast. Instead of the muscular young fellow into which he had developed on the Texas ranch, he dwindles away. His body became thin and wasted, his eyes retreated into their sockets, and the flesh of the face shrivelled like that of an aged man. Meanwhile, the doses of morphine became not only more frequent, but stronger each day.
When he first began to take injections he made them on his arm and breast. Gradually the skin became covered so completely that there was no room left for the needle. Then he used the skin on other portions of his body, being compelled to find new skin for each puncture, for the reason that a second puncture immediately in the region of a prior one would cause a great boil to appear, and the effect of the injection would be lost. For years this puncturing of the skin progressed, until now he has left only the most difficult portions of his body to reach, his back. There remains on the back but a mere patch to which the needle is a stranger.
He has learned long since how to imitate the handwriting of a physician. Whenever the supply runs out he writes a prescription, forges the name of a known physician or signs that of a fictitious one and induces a companion not afflicted, a boy or a casual acquaintance to secure the drug for him.
Richard’s waking hours are divided into three immensely differing conditions. In one of them he feels the beloved intoxicant stealing through his veins, in the second he is suffering from the inevitable reaction as it loses its power; in the third he endures the unspeakable misery and fearful torture of a wrecked system, unstimulated by morphine. The only sleep he gets now is during the brief period when the action of the morphine reaches its height.
Every fresh dose must be larger than the last, and at the same time its effect is less. His period of intoxicated happiness is thus reduced and that of the absolute torture proportionately increased.
From the past he knows what unspeakable agony it is to be without the drug, and he also knows that, both from the failure of the drug to act as powerfully as before and from lack of money, his hours of torture must become longer and longer each day of his existence.
He can calculate exactly how many more hours of agony every day must have for him. It is impossible to imagine a more perfect realization of hell upon earth.