Eradication of opium smoking in Taiwan: Professor Tsungming Tu’s scientific and clinical missions during the Japanese colonial period

Nai Shin CHU
Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan

The eradication of opium smoking is one of the most proud accomplishments in Taiwan’s medical history and it was due to a fruitful cooperation between government and academic medicine. Because of widespread opium smoking in Taiwan, the Japanese colonial government decided in 1897 to eradicate it by adopting a policy of gradual prohibition. The government established the Taiwan Monopoly Bureau to manufacture and sell opium only to opium addicts, and at the same time established the Government Central Hospital for enthabitual treatment. Those measures were intended to decrease the number of opium smokers gradually over the years.

The scientific and clinical aspects of opium addiction were studied by Dr. Tsungming Tu, who was Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Government Medical College in Taipei. Although Professor Tu was also interested in snake venoms and traditional Chinese medicine, he attained international fame through his work on opium addiction. Professor Tu’s basic research on opium and morphine included: (1) the pharmacological actions of opium smoking and morphine; (2) the symptoms and pathophysiology of opium withdrawal; and (3) the detection of morphine alkaloids in the urine to confirm opium consumption. His enthabitual treatment of opium addiction was unique. Addicts were admitted to the Government Central Hospital, but an abrupt withdrawal of opium was not attempted. Instead, opium withdrawal was gradual and opium was partly substituted by small amounts of morphine. Withdrawal symptoms were further relieved by special pills which enhanced sympathetic activity. By such treatment, the habit of opium smoking could often be eliminated in a short time, usually a few weeks, “without heavy suffering.”

Professor Tu also conducted an epidemiological survey on opium addiction in conjunction with the government’s general census from 1897 to 1900, and found there were 169,064 opium addicts, constituting 6.3% of the island population. His group also studied the causes of death and the mortality rate of opium addicts. Shortly after World War II, the number of opium smokers in Taiwan became negligible. Accordingly, the Government Central Hospital was closed and the Taiwan Monopoly Bureau changed its production from opium to tobacco and alcoholic beverages.

Professor Tu’s contribution to Taiwan’s neurosciences was impressive, particularly in the field of opium addiction. His involvement in opium research was both basic and clinical, an extraordinary accomplishment for a basic neuroscientist.

Session VIII
Wednesday, 6 July 2005, 3.30 - 4.00 pm

Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Tenth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005