When Good Drugs Go Bad
Opium, Medicine, and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws
There is something enduring about the image of the Victorian drug addict, languishing in the smoky confines of an underground opium den, the embodiment of moral lassitude. When Good Drugs Go Bad reveals that in nineteenth-century Canada, most Canadians were drug users – everyday people taking addictive drugs prescribed by their doctors and purchased at the local pharmacy.
Throughout the 1800s, opium and cocaine could be easily obtained to treat a range of ailments. Drug dependency, when it occurred, was considered a matter of personal vice. Near the end of the century, attitudes shifted and access to drugs became more restricted. How did this happen?
Dan Malleck examines the conditions that led to Canada’s current drug laws. Drawing on newspaper accounts, medical and pharmacy journals, professional association files, asylum documents, physicians’ case books, and pharmacy records, he demonstrates how a number of social, economic, and cultural forces converged in the early 1900s to influence lawmakers and criminalize addiction. His research exposes how social concerns about drug addiction had less to do with the long pipe and shadowy den than with lobbying by medical associations, a growing pharmaceutical industry, and national concern about the morality and future of the nation.
Scholars and students of the history of medicine, the history of law, and social history, will enjoy this engagingly written book about drugs, alcohol, tobacco use, and legislation in Canada. This book will also be of interest to professionals who work in the area of drug advocacy and addiction.
In Malleck’s brilliant account we can see how commercial interests both combined and competed with professionals and sellers to influence Canada’s drug laws … As Canadians debate how marijuana should be designated—legal or illegal, medicine or recreational drug or both—Malleck provides a fascinating description of a similar journey taken by pain medications such as opium and cocaine at the beginning of the last century. His book provides a useful history to help us navigate today’s discussions about who should grow and sell safe and affordable marijuana.
Malleck’s extensive use of primary sources convincingly establishes this context and describes the dominant origin story of Canada’s drug laws that has not frequently been told.
Malleck vividly depicts how sensationalism, misunderstanding, and the threat to the practise of medicine fuelled the new concept of addiction distinct from insanity and moral depravity. Malleck’s scouring of all available records provides a rich understanding of how the social and cultural factors surrounding opium in Canada set the stage for the moral debate over drug use … His thorough analysis and ability to draw on a mountain of records to seamlessly tell the story provides the reader with a new found appreciation of the complex development of drug legislation in the modern era.
[A] close study of how doctors, pharmacists, bureaucrats, and policy-makers wrestled over the control of opiates in the decades leading to the first Opium Act of 1908 … When Good Drugs Go Bad will be of interest to scholars exploring the history of drugs and their regulation while also adding to our understanding of state formation and professionalization during the nineteenth century. Its multi-regional focus on Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia serves to nationalize these issues. Malleck also addresses and critically challenges the association in British Columbia between anti-Chinese sentiments and opium that, he argues, has distorted events by insisting that the Opium Act was a reaction to racial tensions. Instead, by broadening the regional lens, Malleck shifts the story to a contest over professional authority.
When Good Drugs Go Bad deepens our understanding of the connections that could be so easily drawn between the body, race, medicine and the nation in early twentieth century Canada.
[When Good Drugs Go Bad] is a well-written and well-researched book… Readers will learn much about the ‘awesome, awe-inspiring, and awful substance’ that was opium... Readers may also find that Malleck’s discussion of ‘danger’ and addiction fears with this drug in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries resonates with today’s opioid debates.
When Good Drugs Go Bad will stand for a long time as an essential volume in every drug scholar’s library, not only for its encyclopedic detail and insightful analysis but for the sheer pleasure of reading Dan Malleck as he recounts the history of drug regulation in Canada.
This book will be of great interest to scholars, students of drug policy and social policy more generally, and indeed to anyone interested in how Canada’s current systems of drug control were formed by history.
Introduction: Its Baneful Influences
1 Medicating Canada before Regulation
2 Opium in Nineteenth-Century Medical Knowledge
3 Canada’s First Drug Laws
4 Chinese Opium Smoking and Threats to the Nation
5 Medicine, Addiction, and Ideas of Nation
6 Madness and Addiction in the Asylums of English Canada
7 Proprietary Medicines and the Nation’s Health
8 Regulating Proprietary Medicine
9 Drug Laws and the Creation of Illegality
Conclusion: Baneful Influences
Notes; Bibliography; Index
A White Man's Province
British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants 1858-1914
Historical Essays on the State, Society, the Individual, and the Law
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Influenza, Society, and Culture in Canada, 1918-20
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The Impossible Clinic
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