The book Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History’s Greatest Buildings by James Crawford has a chapter about the walled city of Kowloon in Hong Kong, and there is also an article based on this published at Atlas Obscura.

The claim I'm doubting appears in both publications:

Many of the city’s rats were addicts too, and could be seen writhing in torment in dark corners, desperate for a hit.

A footnote points to another book as the source of this, City of Darkness by Greg Girard and Ian Lambor. In an interview on p. 169, a former resident of Kowloon named Peter Chan indeed states:

Rats would come around as well. They were addicted too, and they twisted and turned, longing for a fix.

Is there any further evidence to support this statement as more than urban legend? Are there other eyewitness accounts? Does laboratory science support the possibility that rats would actively seek out opiates or other drugs in the environment of their own accord, and that the observed behavior could be a sign of withdrawal? I'm assuming that people would not intentionally feed opium or heroin to rats, but any evidence that this occurred would also be relevant.

  • 4
    I am worried that there are two claims here: (a) "Can rats be addicted to opiates?" which should be easy to answer with references, and (b) "were there addicted rats in Kowloon at the time?" which is considerably harder. Would you be satisfied with an answer to (a)?
    – Oddthinking
    May 26, 2021 at 0:41
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    The question is somewhere in between... "a" would be trivial, as a quick search shows that opioid addiction is routinely studied in rats. What I find interesting and dubious here is that it happens outside the lab (the specific location is not that important).
    – Brian Z
    May 26, 2021 at 2:17
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    I guess I am concerned that what I would consider the default assumption (I want to emphasize: I don't have any evidence here, and I am ready to change my mind at the first sight of some.) - that rats can be addicted to opioids in the lab, but it is never seen outside the lab, and inappropriate anthropomorphism explains the anecdotes - is going to be very hard to demonstrate. How could I show it never happens anywhere? Maybe someone will show it does happen and solve the quandary.
    – Oddthinking
    May 26, 2021 at 3:08
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    Plausibility check: rats being poisoned, intoxicated, overdosed (on a wide range of substances) would be an unspectular sight. This alluded to addiction development requires regular supply, prolonged, of the specific stuff. So, how would rats get to their fixes? Is that much stuff just dumped at the curb, left in some containers? (Brian: please include any possible connection to that angle from the sources, even if negative). May 26, 2021 at 5:55
  • An urban myth? Derived from a statement such as "Heck, even the rats are on junk around here!" It's possible though. In Vancouver I saw addicts searching the cracks between paving stones in the hopes of finding spilled powder. May 26, 2021 at 9:34


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