Britain’s history with the opium trade, along with its attitude toward domestic use of opiates, is both shameful and hypocritical. Nearly 200 years ago the country was waging bloody wars in the east to push the drug and bankroll a growing Empire while allowing its use at home. Now, the government fights an entirely different kind of war -- one that has in recent decades both stigmatized and criminalized users, pushing many dangerously to the fringes of society and stoking health crises among these affected groups.
In the first part of this series we examined Britain’s sordid past as the world’s greatest opiate pusher, and the widespread use of opium in 19th century England. In order to understand how the cultural attitudes in Britain toward opiate use have so markedly shifted, it is worth exploring the emergence of perhaps the most well known derivative -- heroin -- and its criminalization during the 20th century. In the final part, we will look at just how destructive these changes have been.
Cultural attitudes and government policies toward opiate use in Britain have shifted markedly over the past two centuries from acceptance to criminalization, the latter helping to stoke the so-called "heroin epidemic" of 1980s and 1990s and almost leading to a national outbreak of HIV/AIDS among these groups. This period saw the government reach a new depraved low as it ran its “Heroin screws you up” campaign.