“In 1827, the first year the federal government began tabulating opium imports, almost none was brought into the United States. Five years later, the number had climbed to around fifty thousand pounds. In several years during the 1830s and early 1840s, importation peaked at more than seventy thousand pounds. If a dose is less than half a gram – and it can often be much less – then seventy thousand pounds would be enough for more than thirty million opium highs in a nation with an 1840 population of roughly seventeen million. Importation statistics suggest that use continued to rise throughout the 1840s and 1850s.”
Ryan Grim notes that opium use tracked the success of the temperance movement – as people drank less they turned to another high to fill the need. But the bit about 30 million highs in a nation of 17 million seemed kind of, well, high. Looking at it again, two(ish) highs a year per person doesn’t seem all that dramatic. This is not a nation of junkies. Still, it’s quite a bump from “almost none.” A relatively small number of heavy users could account for a large fraction of that 30 million. That’s typically the case, isn’t it?
source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim