One of the more distressing truths of America’s opioid epidemic, which now kills tens of thousands of people every year, is that it isn’t the first such crisis.
Across the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States, China and other countries saw drug abuse surge as opium and morphine were used widely as recreational drugs and medicine. In the West, doctors administered morphine liberally to their patients, while families used laudanum, an opium tincture, as a cure-all, including for pacifying colicky children. In China, many millions of people were hooked on smoking opium.
In the mid-1800s, the British went into battle twice — bombing forts and killing thousands of civilians and soldiers alike — to keep the Chinese market open to drug imports in what would become known as the Opium Wars.