Histories of Opiates Past and Present

The content for this website was created in Spring 2022 by Boston College students enrolled in HIST/INTL 4477. In this course we examined the global history of opium from the origins of the East India Company’s opium monopoly to the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States.

Central to the histories of opiates is money. Not only the money made by peddlers, pushers, and smugglers. But the capital accumulated at much larger scales of corporations, states, and empires.

Capitalism, we found, is at the center of the global story of opiates, but what it has looked like and who it has pulled into its web has varied over time and space.

We invite you to learn with us about different places, populations, and practices that constitute the many histories of opiates.

We present our findings in a variety of formats: timelines, story maps, charts, and narratives.

Our site is organized into one section of large-scale overviews and two sections of historical material. The first historical section covers the history up until 1990. The second focuses on the US opioid epidemic, which we date to the initial distribution of Purdue Pharma’s blockbuster drug Oxycontin, first available in 1996.

Many primary and secondary sources made this journey possible. On each page of the site you will find references for that page. You can find our course reading list under “Further Reading.”

Cover image: “Opium Poppies?” by Jake Pierson. Marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.