When I was younger, the phrase “war on dope” conjured up a vision of police and gangs enforcing laws to “crack down” on illegal drugs and their paraphernalia.
I imagined my mother would yell “Dope!
Drug!” at me as she walked by, telling me to get out of my neighborhood.
And then, a few years later, I would watch a video of my friend and then-girlfriend, Dannia, pleading with me to stop smoking crack cocaine.
We were both high at the time, and we thought it was only fair that she did, too.
She wasn’t, and so we both went to jail.
Nowadays, the “war” on drugs is not about the enforcement of any law or law enforcement strategy; it’s a way of framing an entire culture as bad and immoral.
It’s a battle against the scourge of addiction, the idea that drugs are the new black, that drugs make you stupid and irresponsible and that we’re all guilty.
But, of course, drugs aren’t the new drug.
They’ve been around for thousands of years, in addition to being the drug of choice for centuries.
And while the word “drug” is a relatively recent invention, it has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome, and it’s only recently that we started to see its negative connotations.
The word “dope” was coined in the 1600s by American philosopher and legal scholar William Godwin, who defined the term as “an instrument of violence, the object of which is to deprive an individual of the possession of his person or property.”
The word was popularized by the English writer and satirist William Wordsworth, who was in love with an opium pipe and nicknamed it “dop” after the Latin word for “weed.”
But this particular slang term wasn’t coined until 1878, when the English chemist Thomas Watson invented the compound morphine.
Its earliest use, Watson wrote, was in the use of opium to sedate patients.
“But it was the invention of a chemist, who in the course of his work discovered the most remarkable effect of the compound, the effect that it produces in the nervous system,” Watson wrote.
“The most remarkable result of the effect, and of every compound of the class, which I have so often been able to discover, is that it renders the patient more tranquil and the patient less susceptible to pain, and the pain and the weakness subsiding.”
That was the beginning of the term “doping,” which in 1878 meant the act of using an illicit drug or substance to relieve the symptoms of one’s illness.
In addition to the “dollars” and “cents” that make up the modern currency, the word itself is derived from the Latin verb “dicare” meaning “to give,” “to dispense,” and “to distribute.”
“Doping” was invented by the 19th-century British chemist Charles Darwin, who wrote that it is “the first of all the chemical substances we have ever found that, having some effect upon the nerves of the nervous apparatus, produces an immediate, beneficial, and very rapid relief from pain, anxiety, or any other mental or physical distress.”
It was Darwin’s notion that substances like morphine, opium, and cocaine were a means of providing an immediate benefit to people, a means that had been proven in clinical trials.
By 1877, the medical profession was embracing this idea, and, in a way, the term was adopted by the public.
People began to understand that drugs were a valuable tool for treating symptoms of disease and, more importantly, that they could be prescribed to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
That’s when “drugs” started to become a shorthand for the use or misuse of illicit drugs.
For decades, that’s what the drug war has been about: criminalizing, imprisoning, and punishing those who use drugs.
And that’s how “drug czars” came to be.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, known as DEA, was created in 1970 and, like other federal agencies, has a mission to protect public health and safety.
That mission is not to target and arrest people for their drug use; rather, it aims to combat the “drug menace” that is a serious public health threat.
So how has the DEA become so corrupt, and how has it been able, over the last 30 years, to turn the public against the public health?
And why, for that matter, is the public not willing to accept a crackdown on drugs, even as its health and welfare continue to be harmed?
The Drug czars, along with their allies in Congress, have a clear vision of the “War on Drugs” as a battle between “drug kingpins” and the American people.
They view their job as to “keep the public off drugs.”