Chasing the Dragon: The Cultural Metamorphosis of Opium in the United States, 1825-1935


Many things to many people, opium has played a role in the emergence of several power bases in the United States. In turn, these bases of power have shaped what opium is for the rest of us. Allopathic medicine brought opium and its derivatives under its control around the turn of the century, promulgating “addiction theory” and addiction clinics as part of its rise to preeminence among rival forms of medicine. Opium also played a role in the U.S.’s international economic and imperialistic ascendance. When politicians began to deploy a new discourse on opium early in this century, they were able to appropriate medical rhetoric. As the politics of opium heated up, some doctors were able to exploit the emerging politically inspired discourse to generate a subtly different medical knowledge of opiates and addiction while establishing a new subdiscipline with the political support of lawmakers and state institutions.

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