P. E. CaquetOct 12, 2022
The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs
Reaktion Books 2022
The global war on drugs began some 150 years before US President Richard Nixon launched the current chapter of America’s drug war in 1971. In Opium’s Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs (Reaktion Books, 2022), P. E. Caquet tells the story of “how an ever-larger group of mind-altering products came to be prohibited throughout the world, for what reasons, and with what effects.” The story opens with Britain’s two Opium Wars against the Chinese. Caquet shows how policies based on the properties of opium have been applied to disparate substances. The book describes how a worldwide effort, long led by the United States, to eliminate drugs at their sources has had unplanned consequences – economic, social, and political – while falling far short of the drug war’s stated goals. Finally, Caquet describes how “the last decade has seen an increasingly direct challenge to the international drug-control system.” Opium’s Orphans is a wide-ranging account of a profoundly consequential history whose origins, rationale, and effects raise difficult questions of the limits of governmental action and the scope of human freedom.
Steve Beitler’s work in the history of medicine focuses on how pain has been understood, treated, experienced, and represented. His recently published articles examined the history of opiates in American football and surveyed the history of therapeutic drugs. He can be reached at email@example.com