It is the peak of the opium trade, and morphine and opium alkaloids are readily available in Los Angeles by the late 1880s.
The following is an excerpt from Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897 by Liz Goldwyn
Oh, but what terrible boredom afflicts the ladies of the house, as they wait for the evening’s clients to arrive. Weary souls wasting away hours indoors as the sun fades away, prepping themselves for the onslaught of men. An interval of time before their bodies will be bought and sold. Used up. Likely dead by the time they are forty. It is no wonder that many prostitutes take laudanum drops or morphine to dull their response to pain and pass the time between bedfellows.
These magical drops come all the way from China. It is the peak of the opium trade, and morphine and opium alkaloids are readily available in Los Angeles by the late 1880s. At least a dozen opium dens operate in Chinatown alone. Several dens are even listed on the Dakin fire insurance maps of the era.
Prescribed by doctors, uterine wafers containing morphine can be inserted into the vagina for irregular or painful menstruation. Laudanum is tax free if approved as a medicine; even society women use it to achieve their ideal facial pallor.
For whores and polite ladies alike, nerve tonics are promoted to control “neurasthenia”—a condition whose symptoms include anxiety attacks, hysteria, exhaustion, depression, and headaches—thought to afflict most women “particularly in the higher circles of society, where their emotions are over-educated and their organization delicate.” Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a mixture of opium and brandy, and Godfrey’s Cordial, containing high amounts of morphine, are both sold over the counter. A wide variety of medicinal “bitters” are little more than “lures to drunkenness.” The popular Boker’s Stomach Bitters has an alcohol content of 42.6 percent
Private physicians and brothel-house doctors prescribe stronger tinctures for insomnia, in the form of pure morphine or laudanum in mysterious dark glass bottles. These can be found in many a woman’s boudoir, or alongside the bodies of prostitutes who have committed suicide in Los Angeles’s sporting houses.