Smarty Pants Podcast

Heroin’s Long History

What our historical fascination with opium can tell us about the present

By Stephanie Bastek | February 8, 2019
Rosmarie Voegtli/Flickr

Opiates have gone by many names in their millennia-long entanglement with humans, in an ever-refined chain of pleasure: poppy tears, opium, heroin, morphine. With the advent of synthetic opiates like fentanyl, we’re seeing addiction and devastation on a scale unmatched in the 5,000-year history of the drug—but also a return to some of the same patterns and failed attempts at regulation that have haunted our efforts to control it. Cultural historian Lucy Inglis tells the painful, pain-fighting story of opium, and how its history is really our history—from trade and war to medicine and money.

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