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Post Column: Modern drug control better than all-out opium war

A few months ago, I was watching the local news in my hometown of Cincinnati when I saw an advertisement for a news special. The report focused on a supposed drug epidemic that was particularly affecting the Kentucky suburbs: heroin.

While the history of heroin itself dates to the 19th century, the Sumerians of present-day Iraq were the first to grow opium around 3400 B.C. This natural drug comes from the seedpods of the opium poppy, and it oozes out of the fruit when it is cut.

The International Opium Convention was signed by eight nations in The Hague 101 years ago today, finalizing the first international drug-control treaty.

By 1912, those measures were overdue. In the 1600s, Europeans introduced mixes of tobacco and opium to the Chinese. During the next 200 years, the Chinese went from importing 200 chests of opium in 1729 to 70,000 chests in 1858.

Meanwhile, the British were making obscene profits off the Chinese’s addictions. Indian-grown opium poppy monopolized the Chinese market, so the British could sell the drug for as much as they wished.

Those tensions culminated in the Opium Wars during the 19th century. Despite the court’s desire to legalize and heavily tax the drug, the Emperor of China demanded the arrest of opium dealers while insisting that foreign investors in the trade return their stocks in the drug.

In 1838, the British invaded the Chinese coast. The conflict did not end until 1860, by which time cocaine had been isolated from the coca leaf.

In the following decades, cocaine (and later heroin) was sold for medicinal purposes in the West. Cocaine was mixed into wines and sprinkled in soft drinks, and heroin was promoted in general stores to be used as cough syrup as late as 1910.

Because of  the addictive properties of the drugs, these uses were not well thought-out. Thankfully, the United States and 12 other nations began to see the problems with these drugs.

In 1915, the treaty was applicable in China, Norway, the United States, the Netherlands and Honduras. It took the otherwise faulty Treaty of Versailles of 1919 for the agreement to be enforced worldwide.

Even though the narcotics trade is still a significant issue, the International Opium Convention set a precedent for all international drug-control measures. Before the treaty, wars were waged over drug sales, or the lack thereof.

The Opium Wars were fought over the British bottom line, while the addict-riddled Chinese were forced into the background — a classic example of the horrors of imperialism.

So be thankful today. At least opium isn’t being peddled by a nation of power-hungry salespeople to a nation of drug addicts.

Moriah Krawec is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Should international drug control be stronger? Email Moriah at

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