The problem of drug use and abuse is not a new one, society has dealt
with drug use and abuse for centuries. From the early Egyptians use of
wine, to the Chinese’s use of marijuana for medicinal purposes dating
back to 2737 B.C., drug use has a long history. During the 19th century
scientists and chemists began to extract the active ingredients in drugs
and refine them, resulting in the creation of substances such as
morphine, laudanum, and cocaine. These newly created substances were
unregulated and widely available to the public. Drug use and abuse was
especially prevalent during and after the Civil War, as morphine was
widely was used to treat wounded soldiers. Many soldiers even had their
own kits of morphine and hypodermic needles, which they brought home
with them after the war. Away from the war, opium dens flourished. It is
estimated that during this period there were approximately 250,000
addicts in the US alone.

The “official” beginning of the war against drug use and abuse, now
popularly called “the War On Drugs” by the government and media, was
1880, when the United States, and China signed legislation banning the
import of opium into the US. In San Francisco opium dens were banned
outright. By 1875 the problem of drug use and abuse was beginning to be
recognized as a serious threat, but it wasn’t until 1906 that serious
legislation to curb drug use and abuse was introduced. The Pure Food and
Drug Act of 1906 required exact labeling of all patented drug items
containing opium and other similar narcotics. The Harrison Act of 1914
further expanded the regulation of narcotics by limiting the sale of
large amounts or “doses” of opiates and cocaine, except by a licensed
doctor or pharmacy. Soon after heroin was banned and the Supreme Court
banned the prescription of any narcotic, even by a doctor. By the 1920’s
the issue of drug use and abuse took a backseat to a newer threat:
Alcohol. The 18th amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the sale,
use, or possession of alcohol, was ratified in 1919. Use of all
narcotics and alcohol declined sharply. Drug use and abuse education in
schools also began around this time, but was abandoned shortly
thereafter. Soon after, marijuana, also considered a narcotic, was
demonized in the media to the point of satire in movies such as
“Reefer Madness” and became a target of criminalization, and was added to
the list of banned substances on August 2nd 1937 when the Marijuana Tax
Act was signed into law, making marijuana illegal on a federal level.

Drug use and abuse became prevalent, even socially acceptable to a
degree, during the social turbulence of the 1960’s. Newer narcotics like
LSD, Quaaludes, and speed, joined heroin, marijuana and cocaine as the
beast of drug use and abuse came back with a vengeance. Horror stories
of “bad trips” and fatal overdoses came to the nation’s attention as
America’s younger generation sought to free their bodies and minds. The
cycle of drug use and abuse continued into the 70’s, with a new
generation and an old drug: cocaine. The romanticization of cocaine, and
general drug use and abuse in the media, movies, and popular music, led
to a dramatic increase in the number of addicts and fatalities related
directly to it’s use.

It was during the 1980’s with the invention of the government’s new plan
to stamp out drug use and abuse, that the modern “War On Drugs” began.
Aggressive law enforcement tactics against the users and dealers of
drugs, particularly cocaine, were implemented, and heavy penalties
instituted. The use of cocaine, and other narcotics declined as a result
during the early 1980’s, but rose again sharply in the mid-80’s, and
into the 1990’s, with the invention of “crack”, an easy to make, more
powerful form of smokable cocaine. Due to the incredibly addictive
nature of this new concoction, “crack” or rock cocaine became an
epidemic rapidly, and the number of addicts or “crackheads” continued to
rise sharply. The epidemic of crack, and drug use and abuse in general
is still evident even today in 2006. The 1990’s also saw the rise of
another deadly narcotic, “meth”. Currently the “meth” epidemic is one of
the nation’s worst problems. Even with today’s drug use and abuse
education, rehab and treatment techniques, even the threat of
imprisonment, new addicts are born everyday, and the romanticizing of
drug use and abuse is still prevalent. It seems drug use and abuse and
the resulting destruction will be here for a couple thousand more years
until a way is found to help with the causes of addiction, and the need for
us to medicate ourselves from the stresses of everyday life.