In Burroughs' Junky, he mentions that addicts appeared to be immune and so were safe around infected patients. Can't find anything about this outside of Burroughs and if it is indeed true can only guess that cough suppressive effect of the drug had something to do with it.

EDIT: I don't know why this is not clear but my question is, Were heroin addicts used to help Spanish Flu sufferers?

If they were, is it really true that they were immune to the disease and if so, what was the suggested mechanism.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. The question is founded on the assumption that "In Burroughs' Junky, he mentions that addicts appeared to be immune " I'm going to close the question while we resolve that assertion, merely to avoid (a) discussion in comments and (b) answers that will subsequently be invalidated by changes to the question. This is a temporary closure to permit resolution of an underlying assumption.
    – MCW
    Apr 23, 2020 at 17:19

1 Answer 1


I find this at least slightly plausible for a couple of reasons. One is that current research shows that while opioid use is generally understood to be suppressive to the immune system, it can have surprisingly complex effects, including immunostimulatory under certain circumstances. The other reason is that "the stronger the person's immune system, the more lethal the experience with the flu tended to be." (I'm quoting from a footnote here, which cites Barry's The Great Influenza, p.247) Young men in their 20s died very disproportiantely and it is thought to have to do with an overactive immune response.

That said, I can't find any reference directly relevant to the question, and we are talking about a work of fiction after all, so I would still consider this an open question.

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    Semi-autobiographical fiction is still fiction, but even if it were a strait autobiography that wouldn't really change what I'm saying at all. If it's the only historical source indicating the phenomenon, we need more evidence. Like I said, an open question.
    – Brian Z
    Apr 23, 2020 at 15:28
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    The only point I'm making here is that we don't know enough to dismiss this whole thing as preposterous. I'm not speculating beyond that, but saying that it's worth looking for sources that relate directly to the question. I'm not finding any one way or the other so far.
    – Brian Z
    Apr 23, 2020 at 15:33
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    @releseabe. One source is one source. I'm not saying it's wrong. I'm saying its one source. If you thought it proved the fact you wouldn't be asking the question. I'm saying, interesting question, let's find more sources.
    – Brian Z
    Apr 23, 2020 at 15:37
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    yes, obviously i did not accept Burroughs -- he also believed in Orgone energy and that heroin hid in the spinal column and that withdrawal was an allergic response, all nonsense but somehow plausible in 1950. My question is only partially technical (the why it works part) -- there ought to be a newspaper article that says something like, "drug addicts use to aid flu victims" but i am not finding such an article.
    – releseabe
    Apr 23, 2020 at 15:41
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    There are conflicting theories on the unusual demographic profile of Spanish Flu symptoms - and you present just one as though ti was widely accepted. it is not. Apr 24, 2020 at 0:12

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