Rare and Haunting Photos Show Drug-Addled Men and Women Lying in the Opium Dens of 19th Century America

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Reclining on bunk beds while sucking on opium pipes, these haunting photos provide a rare glimpse into life in America’s 19th century opium dens that prompted the country’s first crackdown on drugs.

Established by the Chinese and arriving in the US via ships, the first opium dens sprung up in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the 1840s and 1850s, and were soon being used by people from all walks of society.

The opium rush was at its most prevalent during the 1880s and 1890s, which coincided with the rise of the temperance movement.

Its popularity eventually resulted in a string of legislative measures being introduced to try and stamp out the addictive craze, including the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 and Smoking Opium Exclusion Act in 1909.

Two women and a man smoking in an opium den in Chinatown, San Francisco, circa 1890.

Chinese migrants smoke opium at a boarding house in San Francisco in the late 19th century.

An opium den in San Francisco circa 1890, one of many such establishments that opened in the city’s Chinatown.

A rare photo showing a close-up of a user preparing a ‘pill’ of opium for the pipe.

An adolescent smokes opium in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880s, one of thousands of addicts in the USA at the time.

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