Contributor Perspectives

The War on Drugs: A Conflict as Old as Humanity

Ian Morris
Board of Contributors
Aug 16, 2018 | 09:15 GMT

Revelers march through the streets of the Monastiraki district in Athens to celebrate an ancient Greek festival honoring the god of wine, festivity and theatre Dionysos as part of carnival celebrations on February 25, 2017.

(LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Given the difficulties of detecting drug use in the archaeological record and the fact that fully modern human behavior began only 60,000 years ago, it's probably safe to say that drugs have always been with us. The reason, of course, is that they deliver things we want as well as things we hate. Used with care, opioids are miracle workers, able to dull the agonies of disease and trauma; much of the world, especially its poorer parts, needs more of the drugs, not less. (And like so many other drugs, opioids can fuel great art. One critic has hailed Nico Walker's Cherry, published this week, as "the first great novel of the opioid epidemic.") Drugs provide magic and misery in equal measure. They have driven some of history's most positive transformations but have also been the focus of some of its most aggressive campaigns of social control. For millenniums, they...

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