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Changes In Opiate Use And Addiction And In Social Perceptions Of Opiates In The Usa And England Through The 19th And 20th Centuries

2186 words - 9 pages

Social Bore to Crack Whore:The Evolution of the Drug AddictBy Amber RobinsonDiscuss changes in patterns of Opiate Use and Addiction and in social perceptions of opiates in the united states and england in the 19th and 20th CenturiesThere has been major shifts in the attitude towards opiates and users over the 19th and 20th Century, from its initial state as a medical issue to the current status as a matter for the legal system. While the actual nature of opiates and their physical effect on the body in the 1800's is the same as today, the political and social climate has undergone vast changes. It is through social perceptions that the concept of 'addiction' is constructed and maneuvered; these perceptions are indiscriminate to the inclusion of racial, economic and political prejudice and is crucial to the understanding of contemporary attitudes towards opiates. The historical evolution of drug prohibition is the primary concern of this paper, examining the political situation of America and Britain in the 1900's, the ramifications of the USA's criminalisation of drugs and Britain's adjacent medicalisation strategies, and the events leading up to the international prominence of a 'war on drugs' today.Drug addiction in the 19th Century was prevalent in both British and American society where opiate usage was copious and widespread by today's standards, mostly unrestricted and unimpeded by social condemnation. Opium was a household product in Britain, used to treat epidemics like cholera, malaria, fever and diarrhea that tormented the country in the 1800's (Booth, 1996). The opium consumption rate rose 2.4% for every year between 1831 and 1859 (ibid), documenting the increasing dependence on it not only to remedy legitimate disease, but ease depression, control children and their appetites, as an intoxicant, and later for its poisonous properties. The latter was discovered in the first instances of accidental 'overdose' and was subsequently exploited as a means for murder and suicide arousing the first concern about the relationship between drugs and crime. The medical authorities and upperclasses bore witness to the increasing usage of laudanum, chlorodyne and other opium derivatives intended for medical use and consequently lead to the Poisons and Pharmacy Act of 1868 which required them to be classified as poisons, and only doctors and chemist were to dispense them at their discretion (ibid). Opiates were not excessively feared or stigmatised largely because of their extensive use, so ultimately there was limited control over their distribution, and negative effects such as depression, addiction and withdrawal were dealt with privately as a health care issue.America's drug policies have evolved due to a number of technological, racial and economic factors:The disdain for Chinese immigrants in the 19th Century and their association with drugs coloured social perceptions considerably. Following the development of morphine in 1803 and the creation...

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