The United States has over the years continued to establish different laws to help in the fight against drugs. According to Sacco (2014), in 2012 alone, state and local law enforcement agencies apprehended over 1.3 million suspects for drugs related offenses. Although the government has adopted different measures to help in curbing the manufacture, distribution, and access of illegal substances, the number of illicit drugs under the possession of the public has continued to increase over time. This essay examines three harmful drugs considered legal in the late 19th century, including how they were used and later illegalized. What is more, it unveils the three most popular prohibited substances in the United States and provides reasons for their unrelenting use.
Three Drugs That Were Legal from 1865 to the 1900s
Morphine, which is a derivative of opium, has been present in the U.S since the early 19th century. The drug was readily available in the country because it was imported and domestically manufactured to be used as a painkiller. According to the Legal Frameworks Group (2005), in 1870, the nation experienced a substantial increase in the number of morphine users. During and after the Civil War, the substance was in high demand as it was a vital ingredient to different patented medicines. On the other hand, Cocaine was first used in South America before spreading to the U.S and other parts of the world. In 1844, the coca plant utilized in the manufacture of cocaine started to be used as drink additive in Europe and North America. For instance, it was used as an ingredient in the manufacture of Coca-Cola, a drink that was advertised for its medicinal capability. In addition, in the late 19th century, it was incorporated into other drugs after being endorsed by the Surgeon-General as a treatment for fatigue and respiratory related problems.
One of the main factors that contributed to the wide use of the three drugs in the 19th century was the lack of proper regulations from the federal government. There were no federal agencies that were mandated to regulate medical and other harmful substances. According to Sacco (2014), the separation of federal and state authorities also contributed to the unregulated drug market in the era. As the number of drug users continued to increase and the negative effects started becoming more vivid, the public outcry at the time forced the government to start taking decisive actions on the matter. The Harrison Act was the first relevant law to the ratified in 1914 to help in regulating the manufacture and distribution of drugs by imposing taxation and requiring the suppliers to register with the government.
Three Popular Illegal Substances in the United States
Although the United States government has implemented diverse measures to control illegal drugs, several loopholes have remained allowing the public to access the drugs. Cocaine, Morphine, and Opium are still among the most popular illegal substances that are rampant in the public domain. Unlike in the 19th century when they were used for pain relief, since the 20th century, they have mainly been used for recreational purposes. According to the research by the Legal Frameworks Group (2005), most of the buyers of the illegal drugs use them for wrong purposes such as reducing stress. Unlike in the past when they were readily available in pharmaceuticals, and also prescribed by physicians, since they were listed as illegal substances, their supply is mostly conducted by unlawful traffickers. In this regard, they are manufactured outside the U.S and smuggled into the country through an extensive network of drug barons. Once they successfully enter the nation, they exchange hands until they reach local illegal kingpins who then sell them to teenagers and other vulnerable persons (Jones, Logan, Gladden, & Bohm, 2015).
The research by the Legal Frameworks Group (2005) shows that the use of drugs has moved to different part of the countries with mega-cities, such as New York and California, and other urban areas having the highest number of people engaging in their abuse. According to Fellner (2009), the number of drug users has continued to decrease where people are starting to engage in such habits from the early age of 12 years. Teenagers between the ages of 12-19 are the most affected, although the research has also shown that older people, including those of over fifty years, are also engaging in the practice. The use of illegal drugs varies across the country in terms of age, gender, and race. For instance, 64.2% of the suspects arrested for drug-related crimes are African-American with males dominating their female counterparts (McCabe et al., 2007).
Most of the drugs that are currently termed as illegal now were authorized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Morphine, Opium, and Cocaine, which are now illegal and termed as the most psychoactive drugs were used between 1865 and the early 1900s for medicinal purposes in the United States. Although the government has enacted different policies and laws to control the drugs, recent research shows that the trafficking and abuse of the substances and related criminal activities have remained major challenges until now. Unlike in the past where most drug abusers were adults and used the substances to manage pain, the current situation has not spared anyone, including teenagers between the ages of 12-17 years and senior persons, and is mostly done for recreational reasons.
Fellner, J. (2009). Race, drugs, and law enforcement in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/06/19/race-drugs-and-law-enforcement-united-states
Jones, C. M., Logan, J., Gladden, R. M., & Bohm, M. K. (2015). Vital signs: Demographic and substance use trends among heroin users-United States, 2002-2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 64(26), 719-725.
Legal Frameworks Group (2005). Drug and the drug laws: Historical and cultural contexts. Retrieved from https://www.kcba.org/druglaw/pdf/report_hc.pdf
McCabe, S. E., Morales, M., Cranford, J. A., Delva, J., McPherson, M. D., & Boyd, C. J. (2007). Race/ethnicity and gender differences in drug use and abuse among college students. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 6(2), 75-95.
Sacco, L. N. (2014). Drug enforcements in the United States: History, policy and trend. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43749.pdf