Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World

Hachette. Aug. 2019. 352p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316417662. $29; ebk. ISBN 9780316417655. HIST
More than 70,000 Americans die each year from opioid overdoses. How did we get here? Halpern (former faculty of Harvard Medical School) and Blistein (author of the PBS documentary The Mayo Clinic) provide readers with a comprehensive overview of the history of opium use. Opium, in various forms, has been used to relieve pain for thousands of years. In addition to explaining the many discoveries scientists and pharmacologists have made throughout history, the authors describe the role opium has played both culturally and politically throughout the globe. Opium use in antiquity, the 19th-century Opium Wars between Britain and China, America’s entry into the opium trade, and Purdue Pharma’s deceptive marketing of OxyContin are a few highlights. The final section reviews America’s failed drug laws, inappropriately punitive criminal justice system, and failure to help those who suffer from addiction. The authors offer concrete ways to address the problems facing society, from criminal justice reform to effective pharmaceutical innovation.
VERDICT Part history text and part cultural commentary, this is essentially a biography of opium. The story, however, is far from over; there is much work to be done in addressing the opioid crisis. In this informative, insightful, and ultimately hopeful work, the authors offer concrete solutions to an epic problem.

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