The Opioid Crises

By Bring, Daniel M. | New Criterion, June 2019 | Go to article overview

The Opioid Crises


Bring, Daniel M., New Criterion


Lucy Inglis

Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium.

Pegasus Books, 464 pages, $28.95

Doctors as far back as Hippocrates have noted the powers of Papaver somniferum, the flowering opium poppy. Like many other cash crops throughout history, it has been bred and cultivated to improve its hardiness and potency, and generations of physicians, pharmacists, and black market profiteers have refined it to make it stronger, more curative, and sometimes more addictive, as Lucy Inglis explains in her new book, Milk of Paradise. She divides her narrative into three sections: opium, morphine, and heroin, displaying the historical trajectory of products derived from the opium poppy.

Great writers and philosophers have recognized the allure of opium since ancient times. Though it is more commonly associated with English Romantic poetry, the plant appears widely in antiquity's epic poems. As Inglis notes, in the Odyssey a drug is conferred on Helen--one which many think to be opium from Egypt--with which she later drugs her guests. The ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism mentions a plant-based narcotic in its holy texts, thought to be either cannabis or opium. Aristotle and Galen wrote on the substance's medicinal use; the tatter's patient, the venerable Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, would take a medicinal mixture of opium and other substances. So constant was his usage that "the nervous symptoms he displayed were those of a regular opiate user," Inglis writes.

During the Age of Exploration, opium evolved from a medicine to a geopolitical lever, especially in Asia, where the British sought to trade their Indian-grown opium for highly desired Chinese tea. What ensued was a mass opium addiction on the part of the Chinese, and Chinese magistrates attempted to restrict the activities of British traders. A decades-long struggle over the ports on the South China Sea then began. Inglis describes how the British East India Company smashed the Chinese trade barriers over the course of two Opium Wars in the mid-nineteenth century. Hong Kong, ceded to the British in 1842, emerged as the trading hub of the opium market, which fed the deleterious addictions of the mainland Chinese population.

In the West, opium addiction arose from the general enjoyment of cheap drugs. But Inglis makes sure to describe the popularity of opium in England within a broader history of addictive "crazes" in British history; prior to opium, gin and tea swept through the country and were perceived as menaces before becoming less prevalent and less frightening. "These bouts of collective addiction have struck societies across the world periodically," she writes, "but ... they eventually lessen and then abate for reasons that remain essentially unknown."

Due to their unique effects and potency, however, opium and its derivatives convulsed British society in ways that gin and tea did not. The British opium craze was centered around laudanum, a tincture of opium powder and distilled spirits. This fever swept up such significant writers as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas De Quincey. Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan" (1797) was allegedly--and famously--the product of an opium-induced fantasy, and De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) became the seminal piece of addiction literature. Focusing on the real harm diat opium addiction caused these writers and many others, Inglis does not herself indulge in any romantic ideas about drug use.

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, morphine overtook raw opium as a powerful and much-desired painkiller. German chemists isolated morphine from the poppy's latex, with the idea that doing so would circumvent opium's potential for addiction. Since opium addicts were generally smokers or "opium-eaters," the hypodermic administration of the drug was supposed to bypass the sensory pathways that made it so enticing, but this proved not to be the case.

At the same time, advancements in military technology made the wars of the nineteenth century crippling--physically as well as mentally--to soldiers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Opioid Crises
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.