Every day we hear of the serious opioid crisis that is ravaging many areas of the country. Usually people start off legitimately, taking prescribed pain medications for an injury, and soon they become dependent upon the drug to function normally. Opium addiction today generally translates either to medications like fentanyl, or illegal substances like heroin. People take them to dull pain, or to lower anxiety, or just to slip away for a little while.

Drugs derived from opium are not new, and they have many positive uses as well as the deadly ones. Morphine, for instance, is the most effective pain killer for terminally ill patients. But in the early days, it was quite a different experience.

Opium came to San Francisco in 1861, about 113,000 pounds of it. Opium dens were established in Chinatown and quickly became successful businesses. More and more dens opened as immigrants continued to flow into the country to join the California Gold Rush. Usually these establishments were owned and operated by Chinese immigrants.

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