Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream

Mike Jay writes:

Early Arab sources are the first to foreshadow the modern phenomenon of the addict. A 12th-century doctor noted that some visitors to Mecca were ‘dangerously obsessed with their craving’, and resorted to crime to gratify it; Avicenna warned sagely: ‘Collect your fee before you dose your patient with the poppy.’ But while compassionate doctors such as Maimonides prescribed opium freely for chronic pain (‘the dying must not be left to suffer’), in Europe it would be centuries before this became part of medicine’s remit. In Thomas Dormandy’s sobering litany, St Teresa of Avila, Philip II of Spain, Charles II and Louis XIV were among millions who died in protracted and unnecessary agony: ‘All were surrounded by the best medical talent of their day. None was offered opium to ease their suffering.’

(LRB 21 June 2012)