From a psychiatrist on the frontlines of addiction medicine — the former medical director of the Boston Center for Addiction Treatment and former director of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at the legendary McLean Hospital — comes the fascinating history of the flower that helped to build, and now threatens, modern society.
In 2017 over 60,000 Americans died as the result of opioid overdoses, more than died annually in this country during the peak of the AIDs epidemic, more than die every year from breast cancer, and more Americans than died in the entire Vietnam War. But even though the overdose crisis ravaging our nation seems impossible to ignore, few understand how it came to be.
Opium tells the extraordinary and at times harrowing story of how we arrived at today’s crisis — a story that begins at the dawn of human civilization with enterprising poppy farmers in Mesopotamia, explores how Greek physicians and forgotten chemists discovered opium’s effects and refined its power, how colonial powers spirited opium around the world in the interest of building out empires, and finally how international drug companies used the substance as a model for a wave of pills that laid the groundwork for today’s raging overdose epidemic.
Throughout, the book demonstrates how opium has served to build our modern world, from trade networks to medical protocols to drug enforcement policies. Most important, it reveals how crucial misjudgments and patterns of greed served to spread dangerous uses of the drug, hurtling the world toward crisis — and how, using the insights of history and the miracles of state-of-the-art science, we can overcome it.