Opium: Usage trends

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 2:25 pm

Even though the developed world’s appetite for smoking or eating opium is not large, it still exists. The DEA estimates that the U.S. market for cooked opium, consumed by opium smokers, is still as much as 2.2 tons (2 metric tons) annually. Much of this market is apparently among Laotian Hmong and Mien refugees who have settled in Northern California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
In the United States and other developed countries, illicit opium derivatives such as heroin or licit synthetic opioids such as Vicodin have generally replaced the use of smoked or eaten opium. According to Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there were more than 82,000 emergency department admissions for narcotic analgesics/narcotic analgesic combinations in 2000. Only 167 of these visits were for opium and opium combinations.
Prescription opioids are often the drugs of choice for physicians and other health care professionals who become substance abusers. Their jobs often grant them easy access to pharmaceuticals, and these prescription drugs provide standardized doses without the dangers encountered in obtaining street drugs. These users frequently favor Demerol, Dilaudid, methadone, and morphine.
Opium use in developing nations
In some developing countries, particularly around the poppy fields themselves, opium is used for its medicinal and recreational effects. Opium smoking and/or eating is still a problem in rural areas where the poppies are cultivated. By some estimates, perhaps as much as 25% of the opium produced in Southeast Asia is consumed by opium poppy farmers.
Poppy farmers commonly smoke opium to fight hunger, cold, and chronic pain. Opium also retains a variety of other uses in developing countries. For example, Afghan carpet weavers eat opium to ease pain and to work longer hours. Opium is also used in some developing areas as a form of childcare to keep children quiet while parents work or to soothe their fussiness. It also serves as a treatment for diarrhea. Indeed, the widespread practice of using opium to treat diarrhea and malaria has been noted as an important factor in its rapid and early establishment throughout India, western China, and Southeast Asia, where these ailments were common. Additionally, opium has been believed in various places and points in history to have aphrodisiac (sexually enhancing) properties.
Opium also has a history of use with animals. For example, trainers have used opium balls in domesticating and training elephants. Increasing an elephant’s opium allowance has also been used to control them during musth when a rutting, testosterone-driven male elephant might otherwise go on a rampage. For centuries, horses have also been given opium to prepare them for long journeys or military patrols.

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