100 Years of the War on Drugs
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war on drugs. Prior to 1912 and even as late as World War I, alcohol was considered the number one vice plaguing nations. This was the time when the temperance movement was gaining momentum both in the United States as well as in parts of Europe, most notably in the United Kingdom.
Drug Culture in England
Problems of domestic violence and public misconduct related to heavy drinking eclipsed worries about opium and other drugs. Britain was more interested in the flow of opium than in restraining its use and even went to war to protect the opium trade.
A century ago, Britons purchased opium at the local chemist’s storefront. The drug was used as an anesthetic and was unregulated in any way. Occasionally, stories surfaced of a scandalous nature involving opium dens.
So many other sinful activities appeared to be taking place in the dens, that non-medical use of opium was not considered a problem. Soon, people turned from opium to cocaine.
Sherlock Holmes is the most famous example of British attitudes toward cocaine during this period. The famously intelligent detective used cocaine as a way to escape boredom. The fictional character’s best friend and cohort, Dr Watson, did not approve but saw Holmes’ cocaine addiction as a personal weakness and not anything more sinister.
The use of both cocaine and opium remained quite legal in Britain up until the First World War.
Attitudes in the U.S.
On the other side of the pond, the U.S. took a much less favorable view of drug use. Though as in the U.K, the temperance movement was also strong in America, there was strong opposition to the availability and use of drugs.
in American history when there was much public belief in the power of government action. So, the government did act, and the first drug czar was appointed by the president.
This czar welcomed the help of church leaders in combating drugs in the U.S., but went even further and began to reach out to leaders of other countries to gain their cooperation in halting the flow of drugs. An International Opium Convention, held at The Hague in 1912, was designed to elicit cooperative efforts among signing countries to prohibit non-medical use of opium, cocaine and morphine.
Signatories included the U.S., China, Japan, U.K., Portugal, Germany, Persia, France, Russia, Italy, Siam and the Netherlands. The signing of this first-ever international drug treaty is considered to be the first shot fired in the war against drugs.
Since that day in 1912, worldwide support for the fight against drugs has waxed and waned, but just as it did at the outset, the United States continues to lead the way.