What did a drug user look like in 19th century Canada?
In his new book, When Good Drugs Go Bad, Opium, Medicine and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws, Brock University Associate Professor Dan Malleck reveals that most Canadians were drug users.
Opium and cocaine were commonly prescribed to treat a range of ailments, which often led to drug dependency. It wasn’t until the end of the century that attitudes shifted and access to drugs became more restricted.
In his second book, released this month by UBC Press, Malleck uses medical and pharmacy journals, newspaper accounts, physicians’ case books, pharmacy records, professional association files and asylum documents to show the connection between the increasing power of the medical and pharmacy professions and changes to Canada’s drug laws in the early 1900s.
Canada was one of the first Western nations to adopt a national opium law. Both the United States and Great Britain passed their national drug laws after Canada passed its first law in 1908. Many of today’s laws and common practices can be traced back to those historical decisions by Canadian lawmakers.
“It’s a unique history that needs to be told because of the similarities and differences to other countries,” said Malleck, an established expert in Canadian drug and alcohol history.
When Good Drugs Go Bad should become essential reading on the history of drug laws in Canada. “In most Western countries there’s at least one major historical study of the creation of their drug laws, but Canada didn’t have one,” Malleck said. “My publisher is really excited about the book.”
“It has had a lot of positive feedback already, with readers calling it a valuable history and an accessible academic read.”