The history of the abuse of narcotic drugs in Czechoslovakia


The abuse of narcotics was first noticed in Czechoslovakia in the last century, when some cases of opiophagism (concerning tincture of opium) occurred.


Author: Miloslav MATOUŠEK
Pages: 1 to 2
Creation Date: 1966/01/01

The history of the abuse of narcotic drugs in Czechoslovakia

Dr. Miloslav MATOUŠEK
Professor of the History of Medicine at Olomouc, Czechoslovakia

The abuse of narcotics was first noticed in Czechoslovakia in the last century, when some cases of opiophagism (concerning tincture of opium) occurred.

Morphine addiction made its appearance in Bohemia in the last two decades of the 19th century; but cases were rare and confined to doctors, pharmacists and a few invalids suffering from serious chronic aliments. Those cases of addiction were connected, not with the illicit traffic in morphine, but with misappropriations of morphine distributed for medical purposes. Josef Reinsberg (1844-1930), Professor of Forensic Medicine at the Czech University in Prague, mentions morphine addiction in his Treatise on Forensic Medicine (1894), but says nothing about his own experience of the phenomenon.

In the early 20th century certain cases of morphine addiction were observed among medical students, writers and artists.

Cocaine was the third narcotic drug to appear within the present bounds of Czechoslovakia, and it gave rise to a new form of abuse. Before the First World War, cocaine addiction was practically unknown in what is now Czechoslovakia. The eminent Czech psychiatrist, Karel Kuffner (1859-1940), wrote in his Treatise on Psychiatry (1900) that he had no personal experience of cocaine addiction. In 1912 Vladimir Slavík (1866-1933), Professor of Forensic Medicine at Prague, stated in his Treatise on Forensic Medicine that cocaine addiction was only a minor problem in Czechoslovakia.

But the situation changed after 1918, when Czechoslovakia became an independent Republic. In the following years, cocaine addiction began to spread in Prague and other Czechoslovak cities.

The habit came from abroad. At the end of the First World War, cocaine addiction was already widespread in Berlin and Vienna, as confirmed by various authors like Ernst Joel, Erwin Pulay and E. Meyer. Cocaine addiction infiltrated into Prague through the illicit traffic in cocaine in Berlin and Vienna, the main traffickers being " White Russian " émigrés. Abuse of cocaine then spread among prostitutes, dancers, artists and actors (especially film actors) and thence to other sections of the population.

In 1923 and 1924, abuse of cocaine rose so sharply, particularly in Prague that the Prague newspapers launched a Press campaign to publicize the dangers of growing cocaine addiction. In 1924, the Czech psychiatrist Otakar Janota published a description of the psychosis produced by addiction to cocaine combined with morphine.

In 1920-1925, this addiction was fed by an illicit traffic which itself was a new phenomenon. This traffic was plied between Czechoslovakia and Germany, whose chemical and pharmaceutical industry supplied the cocaine, which was then smuggled to most European countries. There was no illicit traffic in morphine, and the addicts' needs were met by the abuse of medical prescriptions.

After the First World War, the abuse of cocaine in Czechoslovakia was affected by the growing pains of the young Republic. The first post-war years were difficult, and full of contradictions, uncertainties and imbalances. There were economic difficulties, and an abyss yawned between the rich and the masses. The fatigues and rigours of the War stood in contrast to the subsequent thirst for pleasure.

These economic, social and psychological conditions created a favourable climate for the extension of the illicit use of cocaine in Czechoslovakia after the First World War. The number of cocaine addicts was estimated at as much as 10,000 (Klan).

The growth of this abuse was closely linked with prostitution - which is why the Czech psychiatrist Vladimír Vondráček, in his very interesting monograph " Pharmacology of the Mind " (1935), termed cocaine " the prostitute's drug ".

After the First World War an increase was likewise noted in morphine addiction in Czechoslovakia. Some cases of morphine used in combination with cocaine were also observed. This phenomenon was of purely clinical importance, having no social significance.

Later on, a few rare cases were observed in Czechoslovakia of hydrocodone addiction (Vladimír Haskovec, 1931) and of codeine addiction (Vladimír Vondráček, 1941), as also some cases of abuse of pantopon. However, no evidence of heroin addiction was found, although this drug was used for medical purposes from 1898 to 1947, when it was removed from the Czechoslovak pharmacopoeia (Pharmacopoea Bohemoslovenica, ed. I 1947).

Cannabis addiction appeared in Czescholovakia in the '30s, but only in a few exceptional cases limited to the capital. Cannabis was only consumed in the form of marijuana cigarettes smuggled from Trieste to Prague.

After this summary of the history of addiction in Czechoslovakia, some attention must be given to the legal steps taken by the young Republic against the abuse of narcotic drugs.

Pursuant to paragraph 295 of the Treaty of Versailles, Czechoslovakia acceded to the 1912 International Opium Convention (The Hague), which came into force in Czechoslovakia on 10 January 1920, the act for its enforcement being promulgated in 1923. In 1927, Czechoslovakia ratified the 1925 International Opium Convention and promulgated Act no. 147/1927 for its enforcement. The 1931 International Convention was likewise ratified by Czechoslovakia, in 1933.

In 1938 the " Opium Act ", which superseded previous Acts, was promulgated. That Act was amended in 1946 and 1949, and remained in force until 1955, when it was superseded by Act No. 21/1955 on Poisons and Noxious Substances. Furthermore, the 1950 Penal Code prescribed penalties for the illicit manufacture,export, possession and distribution of narcotic drugs. The new Czechoslovak Penal Code of 1961 contains the same provisions.

The Opium Act promulgated in 1938 was of special importance, since it brought the international conventions into force in Czechoslovakia.

In 1938 was also promulgated the Government Enforcement Order for this Act, which provided for the control of the manufacture, preparation and distribution of, trade in, import, transit and export of narcotic drugs. The State made the authorities of all districts of the Republic responsible for control. Special permits were introduced for the import, transit and export of, and also the wholesale trade in, these drugs. Under the same Act, it became mandatory to enter narcotic drugs in special registers (opium registers) in both the wholesale and retail trades. All pharmacies had to record narcotic drugs dispensed on medical prescriptions in these registers. This also applied to all doctors and veterinary surgeons having their own pharmacies. The Act also stipulated official inspections at pharmacies, at least once a year, to check that prescriptions had been duly kept. This Opium Act decreed penalties for offenders. In brief, it ensured State control over the legal trade in narcotic drugs, thus rendering the illicit trade more difficult, and protected the nation, society and youth from the social scourge of drug addiction.

The recrudescence of cocaine addiction after the First World War and the expansion of the illicit trade in that drug called for repressive measures on behalf of public security. Hence there was set up at Prague the " Central Office for the Repression of Traffic in Poisons and Narcotic Drugs ". The result of the repression of the illicit traffic was a marked reduction in the number of addicts in Czechoslovakia.

Since the Second World War, i.e. after 1945, no increase in addiction has been noted in Czechoslovakia.



Reinsberg, J., Soudní lékarství (Forensic Medicine), Prague, 1883-1894.

Kuffner, K., Ucebnice psychiatrie (Manual of Psychiatry), Prague, 1900

Slavík, V., Soudní lékarství pro mediky a právníky (Forensic Medicine for Doctors and Jurists), Prague, 1912

Joel, E., " Kokainismus " (Cocaine Addiction), Med. Klinik, 1924, 19, p. 815

Joel and Fraenkel, Cocainismus (Cocaine Addiction), Berlin, 1924 .

Meyer, E., " Ueber Morphinismus, Kokainismus und den Missbrauch anderer Narkotika " (Morphine and Cocaine Addiction and the Abuse of Other Narcotic Drugs), Med. Klinik, 1925, 20, p. 401.

Janota, O.," Psychosa z kokainismu kombinovanko morfinismem s hallucinacemi liliput? " ? (Psychosis induced by Addiction to Cocaine combined with Hallucinations due to Morphine Addiction). Prakticky lékar (Practical Physician), 1924, 4, p. 105.

Klan, Z. Omamné drogy (Narcosis), Prague, 1947.

Vondráček, V., Farmakologie duše (Pharmacology for the Mind), Prague, 1935.

Haskovec, V., " Kot?zce n?vyku a chronický otravy kodeinovmi prípravky " (Addiction to and Chronic Poisoning by Codeine Preparations) (Dicodid a Eukodal), Revue v neurologii a psychiatrii (Neurology and Psychiatry Review), 1931, 28, p. 233.

Vondráček, V., " Kodeinismus, casopis lékarů ceských " Czech Medical Journal, 1941, 80, p. 733.