Points Interview: Wolfgang Sachsenröder

Today’s post features an interview with Dr Wolfgang Sachsenröder, in which he discusses his latest book, ‘From Opium to Methamphetamines: The Nine Lives of the Drug Industry in Southeast Asia‘ (World Scientific, 2022), and shares some personal reflections. Sachsenröder holds a PhD in Political Science and Public Law from the University of Bonn, Germany, and is an expert in Southeast Asian studies.

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From Roses and Indigo to Opium: The Enigma of Ghazipur

Editor’s Note: In this post, Dr Kawal Deep Kour shows the how the waning markets for rose attar and indigo positioned Ghazeepore, India, to take advantage of the emerging market for opium, and how attitudes towards production changed during the 19th century in response to the changing landscape of labor and colonialism.


Nestled within the orthogenetic city of Benaras, India, Ghazeepore (of the 19th century) was much like an entrepot or emporia without the spirit and brilliance of the former. Ghazeepore, developed independently though its attachment as a hinterland of Benaras, was valuable to the long-term growth under the British raj. But it was the accumulation of interconnected stories, as the social histories of roses, indigo and opium reveal, that facilitated the evolution of Ghazeepore as an influential city by the early 19th century.

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What We Left Behind in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

After twenty years of nation-building in Afghanistan, the United States leaves behind a country in shambles. It might be argued that we slowed down the momentum of terrorist cells and that we kept the Taliban in check for two decades. But there seem to be few positive long-terms stories to highlight—perhaps the empowerment of Afghan women; but that might not last very long under renewed Taliban rule.

Afghanistan is rich in natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious/semiprecious stones, and arable land [1]. But, during the American presence, the country was not targeted by the Western private sector to harness these potential economic development capabilities. The only real area of growth over the last two decades was opium production—that is perhaps our legacy in Afghanistan.

According to the most recent “Afghanistan Opium Survey” report of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in the world [2]. UNODC also reported that the Taliban was the biggest buyer of opium and the biggest collector of opium production taxes as well [3]. Moreover, “sales of opium and poppy derivatives constituted the main source of income” for more than half of the population, and the “gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019″ [4].

Left: A poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 3, 2013. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Inspector Boden Burns It All: The Story of a Pioneering California Drug Warrrior, 1907–1927

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

What a time to be a historian. An embarrassment of digitized newsprint has made it possible to pursue all sorts of angles and stories, to chase all kinds of people not just down a rabbit hole but all around a rabbits’ warren.  Fred C. Boden is one such person who has always caught my eye. A corpulent and bombastic city cop, Boden became one of California’s, and thus one of the nation’s, first state drug enforcement officers. From the passage of California’s state Poison Act around 1907 until his death 20 years later, Pharmacy Board Inspector Boden traveled the state to enforce the prohibition on selling and possessing opium and morphine without a doctor’s prescription.  

Boden’s arrestees were overwhelmingly Chinese immigrants—a community that had long been targeted by the state and by California cities with various licensing and regulatory laws that brought fines and other criminal penalties. White doctors and pharmacists, presumably those who refused to be licensed according to the new law or who persisted in writing opiate prescriptions, were arrested in lower numbers.

Surprise mass raids, often involving posses of local police and deputized citizens, were common. In 1910, Boden led a raid that ended in the arrest of twenty-four Chinese immigrants in Bakersfield where he had been made a sheriff’s deputy. The following year Boden was in San Diego where a newspaper reported that under his direction “the police drag-net has captured seventeen Chinese and two prominent physicians” with more arrests of both “expected daily.”

Left: Clipping of Inspector Boden burning drug contraband from LA Times January 5, 1912.

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“Ethical Displays”: AIHP’s Frank Pinchak Poster Collection & the History of Public Health Information

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). In this post, Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond describes the Institute’s Frank Pinchak Poster Collection.

“Records indicate that over 90 MILLION AMERICANS still need to be vaccinated,” blares the 26-inch by 42-inch professionally printed cardboard poster. “Epidemics start in neighborhoods where there are large concentrations of unvaccinated people,” the text screams. This disease “has not been controlled,” the poster alarmingly concludes, “because the public has been lax about being inoculated.”

These messages appear not in a current COVID-19 pandemic public service announcement. Instead, this poster was part of a three-piece educational pharmacy window display from sixty years ago titled, “1960 Polio Report from your Pharmacist.” The poster noted that “infants and children under five are victims” and sought to educate the public about the dangerous and, then still circulating, poliovirus and the available Salk vaccine.

This poster set is one of about 40 public health education pharmacy window display sets in the Frank Pinchak Poster Collection at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. Pinchak, a registered pharmacist from Paterson, New Jersey, produced and marketed such educational displays from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Pinchak Poster Polio Report 1960
Section of “1960 Polio Report From Your Pharmacist” pharmacy window display poster set from the AIHP Pinchak Poster Collection. Image courtesy of AIHP. Please click on any photo in this post to see a larger image.

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Harry Anslinger Goes to the Movies: To the Ends of the Earth

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, an associate professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is the author of The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture (Oxford University Press, 2018) and the co-editor of Ends of Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Ends of the Earth Lobby Card
Ends of the Earth (1948) lobby card. Image courtesy of MoviePosterdb.

Above one of the many neo-classical governmental buildings that populate Washington, DC, an American flag waves proudly. “United States Department of Treasury,” the voiceover intones. “That’s right, the place they make money.” Dissolves bring us inside where assembly lines stack and sort sheets of cash, “that green stuff,” the narrator drones, “you scramble to get, and then give back at the end of the year, so cheerfully.” But Columbia Pictures’s 1948 thriller To the Ends of the Earth isn’t about money or taxes. Or, at least, it isn’t about their physical presence. Instead, it’s about unassuming quiet objects. It’s about secret circulations of global capital flows. And in particular, it’s about an “innocent, pretty little thing”: the poppy flower and its dark passenger, opium.

Following Agent Michael Barrows, the narrator and protagonist, through China, Egypt, and Lebanon before returning to the harbors of New York, the movie tracks across opium manufacturing and trade routes while regularly referencing the drug onscreen—shocking for a Hollywood film produced during the era of the Production Code. And while the movie has been mostly forgotten, never released on DVD let alone streaming services, it’s an important document about the ties that bind drug policy, governance, censorship, mass media, and the twilight of the Hollywood studio system.

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Drug (M)use: Drugs as a Means of Inspiration from 19th-Century Europe to 1960s America

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Timothy Cole Hale. This post is an abridged version of a paper that he will present as part of the panel, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor,” at the 2021 virtual conference of the American Historical Association next Tuesday, April 20th, at 1:00 PM Eastern. To read the full paper, please visit his website.

Left Brain v. Right Brain
Left Brain vs. Right Brain. Image courtesy of Tumisu from Pixabay.

Opium and Nineteenth-Century Europe

In his 1995 book, Night, English poet and essayist Alfred Alvarez, traces the emergence of opium as a source of artistic inspiration to the Romantic Era. Since the positive effects of the drug include an immediate sense of euphoria and numbness soon followed by severe drowsiness, it is no coincidence that the narcotic became popular at a time when writers were obsessed with dreams and nightmares. These writers believed that the dreamworld provided new experiences and new places that they could incorporate into their work. [1]

Thomas De Quincey, perhaps the most outspoken opium addict of the era, first popularized the drug in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. De Quincey believed that inspiration could transcend from the dreamworld into reality and he wrote that, “If a man could thro’ Paradise in a Dream & have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, and found that flower in his hand when awoke—Aye!” [2]

In 1804, Friedrich Sertürner identified morphine as opium’s most active ingredient, and, with the arrival of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-nineteenth century, injecting morphine became the most popular ingestion method. It is impossible to quantify the popularity of opium—especially as soldiers began returning home from the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s—but the drug was especially prevalent among artists and writers of Bohemian Paris.

The Pleasures of Opium
Drawing of the “Pleasures of Opium” by illustrator Willy Pogany from 1908 edition of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Image courtesy of Internet Archive.

And opium became the perfect substance for rebelling against the bourgeoisie, as the drug causes users to become isolated and withdrawn in their thoughts, often making it physically impossible to contribute to conversations or productivity of any sort. Opium use provided a sense of camaraderie among Bohemian users who fashioned themselves as fighting against traditional literary, art, and social norms. But what may have begun as rebellion had a side effect: the dreamworld and deranged senses provided users with fodder for their art.

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Points Interview: “Serrano Communities and Subaltern Negotiation Strategies: The Local Politics of Opium Production in Mexico, 1940–2020,” with Nathaniel Morris

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Nathaniel Morris, whose article you can see here. Dr. Morris is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow attached to the History department at the University College London. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 7.34.59 PMI’m a historian, and sometimes I pretend to be an anthropologist, I suppose. I’m from London, England – or Great Britain, or whatever else this strange old island is calling itself at the moment. I’ve been interested in Latin American history, politics, cultures and all the rest of it since I was an undergraduate – which I now realise is way longer ago than I would like! – and I’ve always been drawn to Mexico in particular. I’m halfway through a 3-year postdoc at University College London, researching the history of indigenous militia groups in Mexico and trying to work out the links between armed community guard units that emerged during the Revolution in the 1920s and 30s, and the contemporary ‘autodefensa’ militias that are playing a key role in the ‘Drug War’ ongoing in many parts of the country. This research has followed on from an earlier project on indigenous relations with the Revolutionary state in a particularly rugged, diverse and beautiful bit of western Mexico, which – completely shameless plug alert – is coming out as a book with Arizona University Press this autumn. It’s called ‘Soldiers, Saints and Shamans: Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico’s Gran Nayar,’ and you can pre-order a copy here.

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