Heroin Everywhere: The New War on Drugs

Heroin addicts can be found all over the planet

As a pain-reliever, opium has helped many, but its widespread usage has also brought about the production of heroin, an opioid that’s perhaps the most addictive drug in the world. This addiction kills many thousands of people per year and governmental efforts to stop heroin use and distribution have consumed billions of dollars.

But this new opium war, if you will, seems to be failing just about everywhere. Heroin addiction is at an all-time high. Figures vary, but there may be as many as 50 million heroin addicts in the world.

Let’s see what efforts are being done to suppress the production and usage of heroin and decide if the money and time spent have been worth it. This presents the question that if heroin use were legalized, would we save ourselves lots of trouble and money? Or would we simply be adding more heroin addicts to a troubled world?

Now let’s explore the history of opium, from which heroin is produced. Historical perspectives are always fascinating. And then we'll move toward the contemporary aspects of this disturbing issue.

Please keep reading!

Painting of the first Opium War
Painting of the first Opium War
Coolie with his opium ball
Coolie with his opium ball
Chunk of heroin
Chunk of heroin

The Opium Wars

Opium is so valuable that nations have gone to war hoping to control the opium market, or at least be a part of it. Fought between 1839 and 1842, the First Opium War involved Great Britain and the Qing dynasty, which had ruled China since 1644. The war erupted because China wanted to end the importation of opium into its country and the English wanted to continue it, hoping to balance their trade deficits in the process.

Using superior naval power in the process of bombing seaports and military installations, the British won the war and then signed with China the Treaty of Nanking, which granted the British five seaports, at which they could trade all the opium they wanted and also gave them control of Hong Kong Island.

The Second Opium War was fought between 1856 and 1860, and it involved the same major issue – the control of opium sales between China and foreign powers such the United Kingdom, the French Empire, British India and the Unites States. Other issues were involved too, such as the regulation of coolie trade.

After engaging in a series of generally one-sided military campaigns, China admitted defeat and signed the Treaty of Tianjin, which granted the winners legalization of the opium trade and also, interestingly, established freedom of religion in China and allowed British ships to carry indentured Chinese to the Americas.

Heroin Facts

Cultivated in Mesopotamia about three thousand years before the birth of Christ, opium has been used by herbalists for various ailments, especially pain relief. Opium contains two alkaloids, codeine and morphine. As if they needed to do so, scientists in the late 1800s made morphine more potent by acetylating it, thereby making it more fat soluble and thus easier for the human body to absorb. This acetylated version of morphine became known as diacetylmorphine.

From 1898 through 1910 Bayer Pharmaceutical Production marketed diacetylmorphine with the trademark Heroin, hoping it had produced a product without morphine’s side effects, including addiction, and also hoped it would be a good cough suppressant. Embarrassingly, for Bayer, Heroin became a much abused substance very quickly.

In 1914, the federal government of the U.S. passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, which regulated and taxed the production of products based on opiates and coca. Then in 1925 the U.S. Congress banned the sale, importation and manufacture of heroin. At present in the U.S., heroin is considered a Schedule 1 Controlled substance with no medicinal applications whatsoever.

Throughout the twentieth century, nations worldwide adopted laws and procedures designed to regulate heroin or entirely eliminate its possession, usage and sale.

Earth, the Planet of Drug Users

Per the World Drug Report published in 2012, 230 million people took illicit drugs during that year. Of those people, many used heroin or cocaine, as many as 27 million, in fact, or one in 200 people worldwide.

Pakistan, Land of Heroin Addicts

According to an online article for The Diplomat, published in March 2014, Pakistan may be the most heroin-addicted nation in the world; that is, its usage per capita may be higher than that of any other country. The major reason may be that Pakistan borders Afghanistan, the largest producer of opium in the world. Pakistan is also the home of numerous terrorists groups that traffic in heroin to raise money.

According to the aforementioned article, as of 2013 Pakistan may have as many as 4.25 million heroin addicts. Further, an estimated 44 tons of heroin is smoked or injected every year in Pakistan. And, because many addicts share needles, 40 per cent or more of them may be infected with HIV/AIDS.

Drug Use Through the Ages

The online article, “World History of Drug Use,” on the website recoveryfirst.org, people have been getting high since the Paleolithic Age, perhaps as long ago as 60,000 years B.P. (before the present.) In those days, people took ephedra and drank beer. About 3,000 B.C.E. (before the Common Era), the Sumerians may have been the first people to use opium in a major way.

USA: Heroin Use in the Suburbs

An online article for ABC News, published in July 2013, suggests that heroin use in America has doubled in recent years and the largest increase is in suburbia. A major reason for this is that the gateway drug in those areas may not be alcohol, pot or nicotine; it’s prescription drugs such as oxycodone, another opioid often stolen by children from their parents’ medicine cabinet.

But heroin is cheaper. Bags of it can be obtained for as little as $2 to $5, whereas a 30-milligram oxycodone pill costs about $30. So people, many as young as teenagers, buy heroin on the street and quickly become addicts.

Is Methadone the Answer to Heroin Addiction?

According to the website heroin.net, after undergoing heroin detox or withdrawal, an addict may take a drug such as methadone, a synthetic opioid, which gradually reduces dependency. Unfortunately, methadone is also very addictive, and withdrawal from it may require a period of hospitalization. Moreover, in the U.S. thousands of people have died from taking an overdose of methadone.

Legal Heroin in the UK

Since the 1950s, heroin has been legal in England - though only to a certain extent. Doctors can prescribe heroin for people with serious medical problems, such as terminal cancer, and addicts can get it, but only under strict, medically supervised conditions, though treatment with methadone is preferred. Moreover, heroin is legal in other countries in Western Europe.

Afghanistan: Land of Opium

Per an article on NPR.org, dated January 2014, in an interview with John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, Sopko said that the United States and other Western powers are no longer interested in stopping opium production in Afghanistan. In fact, Sopko said people in Afghanistan are growing more opium in that country than ever before.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. adopted a policy to reduce the production of opium in that country, but over the years this policy has been abandoned, even after billions of dollars have been spent. Now Afghanistan produces more opium than any other country in the world. Therefore, what will happen with the opium eradication program now that the U.S. is withdrawing from the country? Replying to this question, Sopko said:

Very few people, particularly at some of the higher levels want to talk about failure. I was not overly impressed with the explanations given to me by anyone at our embassy, or anybody at ISAF(International Security Assistance Force). As a matter of fact, when I interviewed the country team leader for USAID, he couldn't even explain the counter narcotics program to me. So this indicates to me this isn't a priority, and that's very disturbing because this is a national security issue.

Early on, we determined that we had to cut that nexus between the narco traffickers, and they're providing now 30 percent of the revenue to the Taliban and the other terrorist groups. Narcotics is - we haven't broken that.

Before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban prohibited opium production, considering it a sin. But now the Taliban, taking advantage of American indifference, is selling opium to fund terrorism. This must be an unsettling development to many people.

The Mexican Drug Cartels Market Heroin as a Pain Reliever

An article for the Washington Post in April 2014 stated that the Mexican drug cartels seemed to have changed their strategy for heroin sales in the U.S. Since laws regarding marijuana use are seemingly transitioning to outright legalization in America, demand for weed is down. So the cartels are now marketing “H” to those in the U.S. who need painkillers.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials say that the cartels have set up operations in areas such as St. Louis, where prescription pill use and abuse is high. Cartel dealers also hang out near clinics where methadone is dispensed. This makes sense because heroin is often cheaper and easier to obtain than oxycodone or hydrocodone.

Possibly facilitating this marketing objective, the Sinaloa drug cartel, which supplies the U.S. market with 80 per cent of its heroin, may be in cahoots with the American federales. Rumor has it that the DEA has worked with the Sinaloa gang, essentially loosening restrictions on their heroin market in return for needed information regarding the activities of other drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia.

This operation supposedly reached its peak from 2000 to 2012, so this seemingly contradictory arrangement may no longer be happening. But perhaps some other equally disturbing give-and-take scenario could have replaced it in St. Louis or other places in the U.S.


The war against heroin will not end any time soon. There are too many drug addicts in need of a fix, and where there’s a need, somebody will fill it - as long as there’s money to be made, of course.

Perhaps legalization of heroin – something much more liberal than that in the U.K. of course - would eliminate the problems associated with heroin addiction, but there is great opposition to this tactic. Still, this strategy probably deserves more consideration, because how could matters get much worse? The U.S. alone spends more than $50 billion per year on the drug war and its prisons are filled with people convicted of minor drug offenses.

Isn't there a better way to handle such matters?

Maybe if we could end misery in the world, drug addiction would disappear. It seems safe to suggest this is a goal we should all try to achieve. Nevertheless, at the very least, we should educate ourselves about such pressing issues and vote accordingly.

Please leave a comment.

© 2014 Kelley

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Comments 8 comments

Monica Marks profile image

Monica Marks 2 years ago from Fresno, California

Good article. I had no idea heroin was funding terrorism. Doesn't seem like we have much hope in solving this problem. Unfortunately, it's way too close to home.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 2 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Monica. The War on Drugs is very interesting - and troubling - subject matter. What can we do to win this crazy war?

tebo profile image

tebo 2 years ago from New Zealand

A very interesting hub. I was particularly intrigued by the history of drug use. Its amazing that people throughout the ages are always looking for something in the drug/alcohol arena. Or more so that they are able to find it within the plant world.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 2 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, tebo. The history of drug use is interesting. Hey, in the old days, there were herbs and nothing much else, but folks figured things out. Later!

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

I think that all governments are shying away from the real task which is finding out why so many millions find their lives so painful and hopeless that they have to medicate to block it out or deaden any sensation.

If the only way people can feel any pleasure or joy is through chemicals or other addictions such as gambling, then this is the problem which needs addressing. In a happier, more hopeful, contented population there would be less of a demand for any type of drugs.

But governments quite like a doped up population because they don't foment revolutions or disagree with policies and politicians rarely have to deal with the resulting petty crime, injuries, overdoses and littering of the environment engendered by heavy drug use.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 2 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, CMHypno. Yes, you'd think the US federal government would want a doped-up populace that would be amenable to its BS. Beer, pot and benzos will do the trick. Anyway, the US may be "druggiest" country in the world, I wouldn't be surprised. Over all, what works best in the drug war is education and treatment. That way if the traffickers gave away the stuff for free, few people would take it. Later!

nickico profile image

nickico 23 months ago from New Jersey suburb

This hub is very interesting. This was full of information and I have learned so much from this hub.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 23 months ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, nickico. I like writing about drugs, ya know? Later!

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