The Sumerians called opium poppies "the joy plant." That was in 3,400 B.C. Who knows how much earlier it was used as an intoxicant and medicine? Before the Sumerians, people didn't write things down. What we know is that since then, the use of opiates spread east and west, north and south, all around the Silk Road and eventually to the Americas.
The popularity of the joy plant is not hard to understand. It induces bliss. That's why it is so addictive. There are those who believe it doesn't actually relieve pain, but the person under its influence doesn't care, kind of like nitrous oxide. Bliss is a powerful pain reliever, it surely is.
Opiates are so pleasurable, in fact, that their use turns some people into zombies who will do anything - anything - for that high. Kill, steal, whatever it takes. It has happened often, continues to happen.
In 21st century America, there are those who still smoke opium, also plenty of people who shoot or snort heroin. There are also many people who develop an addiction by way of legally prescribed opiates: Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percoset, Vicodan, Morphine and Codeine, to name just a few.
I'm not against pain medication, I should say. After surgery, also for people suffering from end stage diseases, these drugs are a godsend. Terminally ill people of course do not have to worry about how to get off the drug, but those who have had surgery often struggle when the time comes to taper off the opiates. The people who continue to take the drugs long after surgery are likely to suffer from full blown withdrawal when they come off the high. I've not experienced this, but from what I hear, withdrawal is a horrible experience.
Better withdrawal, though, than continued use. I've known people who became so addicted they were powerless to stop using. I was married to someone with a severe addiction to pain pills. I didn't know about it - that was long ago when I was far more naive. He was never quite present when he was using. He was detached, foggy, smiling at a joke only he could understand. His body was present, but not his soul. He would lock himself in a room and listen to music, sometimes not coming out for a day or two except to use the bathroom. I can't remember what form of denial I used to explain this to myself. Needless to say, the marriage did not survive. How could it?
Too, I've had clients who became slaves to opiates. Some were able to get off the drugs, thank god, others couldn't. I don't know what happened to those people because I don't work with addicts who are using. It's not difficult to spot the symptoms, the drowsiness, the vague, foggy lack of presence. It is extremely creepy!
I don't judge those who become addicted, I do not. Humans all around the world have used opiates for thousands of years. I smoked opium just once, sometime during the decade of my 20s. It made me throw up, then I nodded out and had horrible nightmares. It took days to recover my usual energy. I never touched the stuff again.
I'm lucky I didn't like it. Also lucky that I've not had to take prescription grade opiates.
It was long ago that someone or someones forged a relationship with the opium poppy, so long ago that no one can trace it. In my opinion, it is a very dangerous, unhelpful relationship, one of the many things we humans do that is no good for us. And yet, we're just trying to get through the days of our lives as painlessly and happily as we can. Who can blame us for wanting to be happy? If there is a pill or a powder that makes us happy, of course many of us will assume that's a good thing.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a prescription for opiate pain medication, tread carefully, will you? Get off the stuff as soon as you can, please? These are the days of our lives. It's best to participate in life, though life can be fraught, though life can be painful, yes? I say yes. Shalom.