L.M. Montgomery, the celebrated Canadian author of the classic children’s series Anne of Green Gables, was addicted to the drugs barbiturates and bromides. Her drug addiction was discussed in a recent Maclean’s article titled “Lucy Maud Montgomery’s agonizing drug addiction” which consulted UTM assistant professor and forensic toxicologist Dr. Karen Woodall. The Medium sat down with Dr. Woodall to discuss Montgomery’s drug addiction and how it parallels the current opioid crisis.
While L. M. Montgomery was taking a few different medications at the time, “barbiturates were one of the main ones because they were some of the main prescription medications that were given out at that time.” This information has been obtained from “some of [Montgomery’s] personal diaries that her family has now released.” The diaries are “copies of first-hand information” and provide an insight into some of the issues Montgomery and her husband faced.
Montgomery had a history of mental health issues including depression and anxiety. Woodall mentions that “a lot of people take medication to help with [such] issues” and since Montgomery “suffered from some of these things throughout her adult life,” she most likely had a drug addiction throughout the entire process of writing Anne of Green Gables. According to Woodall, the barbiturates would “have caused more of a relaxing affect only because they slow down the way your brain functions and make you feel drowsy. So, they might have just calmed her so she was able to write.” Unlike a hallucinogenic drug which causes hallucinations that are almost out-of-body experiences, opioids can “give you the sense of euphoria and make you feel kind of high, but not necessarily result in a loss of reality.”
Woodall describes barbiturates as “a sedative drug which used to be prescribed quite commonly many years ago. They could be prescribed to help you sleep if you were suffering from anxiety.” Woodall does also mention that barbiturates can be “very dangerous drugs [because they have] a narrow therapeutic window,” meaning “you don’t have to take too much of the drug before you suffer from an overdose.” They differ from “a lot of modern medications [which] if you take a few too many of, you are not going to overdose.”
When asked how people at the time would access barbiturates, Woodall explains that “you would go to your local doctor and would get them through prescriptions.” She adds that, at the time, the doctors who were prescribing the medication “wouldn’t have been aware so much of drug addiction” and the problems associated with mixing drugs and alcohol.
Many of the individuals currently addicted to opioids are similar to Montgomery in that they were first exposed to the drugs through prescriptions. Although Woodall has twenty years of experience as a toxicologist, she has “never seen anything like” the current crisis “in terms of drug deaths [which are] increasing every year. There are so many people addicted…dying from [opioid addictions] …and overdosing. And it’s not just one demographic [who are addicted].”
While the reported cause of Montgomery’s death was coronary thrombosis, Kate Macdonald Butler, Montgomery’s granddaughter, revealed in 2008 that Montgomery had taken her own life by overdosing on a drug. As stated in the Maclean’s article, Montgomery’s story serves as a “cautionary tale about how mercilessly the side effects of drugs can ravage anyone’s life” regardless of the individual’s accomplishments.