Historical Timeline Paper


Before 1914 when the Harrison Narcotics Act became law, morphine was used to treat alcoholism, women were given opiates for their menstrual pain, and they used them as a substitute to alcohol. This overuse of drugs made women to be two-thirds of all the opiate addicts in the United States; a situation that was regrettable, as it meant that children and homes were not adequately taken care of. The passing of the act was, therefore, timely as it prohibited over the counter purchase of drugs that contained opium and coca; doctors could also not prescribe opiates to addicts. After the law was passed, hospitals were filled with addicts experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and crime rates went up as addicts tried to obtain the drugs through any means (Courtwright, n.d.).

A description of the event

Apart from the drug addicts, the U.S. also wanted to control opium trade. Britain was shipping Indian grown opium to China, which had led to an opium war. A significant number of Chinese were not happy with Britain, as opium from India brought competition for their homegrown opium. There were missionaries in China that had come from America, and they had a concern that the opium brought by the British was ruining the lives of the Chinese. American traders, on the other hand, thought that the money the Chinese were using to purchase the opium could have been used to buy other valuable American products. To resolve the opium problem, President Roosevelt called for an international opium conference, after a request by Bishop Brent in Shanghai in 1909, which was followed by a second one in The Hague in 1911 that came up with the first opium agreement. The Hague Convention followed in 1912 whose mission was to solve the Far East opium problem (Courtwright, n.d).

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The history of the law(s) related to the drug 

Initially, in 1914 when the Senate considered the Harrison Narcotic Bill, its primary purpose was not prohibition but regulation, internationally. The act wanted to impose taxes and collect revenue from importation, manufacture, and distribution of opium and its derivatives. Doctors were prohibited from prescribing opiates to addicts, as addiction was not considered to be a disease, hence could not be treated. Any doctor who went against this order was arrested and prosecuted, which led to addicts flocking hospitals some exhibiting mental disorders because of withdrawal. Crime rates also went up as those who had the drugs illegally, sold them at a high price making the addicts steal to afford the drugs. After illegalization of cocaine and morphine, heroin became the drug of choice for addicts but its importation, even for medicinal use, was also prohibited in 1924 (Courtwright, n.d).

The war on drugs gave birth to underground drug rings that brought drugs to the United States from countries like Mexico. Black people in America and most minority groups became a target in police swoops in the war against use and trafficking. The drug traffickers became wealthy at the expense of the addicts, and the addicts have become criminals, as they need money to fund their addiction. Doctors could not prescribe opium or heroin for medicinal use as it is considered a crime (Talcherkar, 2019). 

The impact of the drug on society to include how the legal status of the drug has impacted the community

Cocaine and heroin are still illegal in America although they are still in use, though illegally. Drug addiction negatively affects society in terms of lost productivity, overburdening the judicial system, overstretching health care resources, and destruction to the environment.  In terms of productivity, most drug addicts are in the productive age, but they are unable to be productive because of premature deaths due to overdosing; an element that leads to immobility, illness, and imprisonment. The money that the state uses on healthcare for drug addicts could be used in dealing with other medical conditions and other government policies. People who illegally farm drugs like cannabis contaminate watersheds and the environment. Others redirect water that is used by the community to their marijuana farms, which affect the flow of water downstream (Talcherkar, 2019).

The Harrison Act has done more harm than good to the American people. Activists believe that these drugs should be made legal for the government to control their use. When a substance is legal, there are specific quality control measures put in place to ensure that it does not harm users. In addition, HIV has spread due to addict sharing needles, which are rare, as one has to explain the intended use of the needles; with legalization, needles will be accessible, and there will be no need for sharing. Lastly, the money spent on enforcing the law could be used for other purposes like education on drug use, prevention, and treatment of drug addicts (Lander, Howsare, and Byrne, 2013).

Ten states that include– Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington together with the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes for adults over 21 years. Vermont has allowed possession and cultivation of marijuana in small amounts to individuals over the age of 21 years; although it cannot be sold in retail shops. Some other states have also allowed its use in exceptional cases like medical use but under a doctor’s supervision of direction (Marcoux,  Larrat, & Vogenberg, 2013).

A description of how an understanding of the history and legality of the drug from the event has impacted the counseling profession

Drug addicts who agree to go for treatment and rehabilitation need counseling services for them to obtain complete healing. Counselors should first understand why the individual started taking drugs in the first place for them to help the victim. The counselor should also have an interest in the kind of drug the addict has been using as different drugs have different effects on the addict. They should understand the drugs that are mostly in use hence have an idea on how to deal with the problem (“Opioids: The prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic”, n.d.).


The Harrison Act has not achieved much in terms of prohibiting drug use and abuse. Its enactment has led to the growth of underground drug rings that have also given rise to crime, as drug lords do not settle their disputes through the judicial system but street gunfights. It is, therefore, high time that the government considers making changes to the law that will help reduce the cases of drug abuse and trafficking.


Courtwright, D. T. (n.d.). A Century of American Narcotic Policy – Treating Drug Problems – NCBI Bookshelf. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234755/

Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3-4), 194-205. 

Marcoux, R. M., Larrat, E. P., & Vogenberg, F. R. (2013). Medical marijuana and related legal aspects. P & T: a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 38(10), 612–619.

Opioids: The prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/opioids

Talcherkar, A. A. (2019, March 30). How Illicit Drugs Affect Society. Retrieved from https://www.detox.net/other-drugs/illicit-drugs-and-society/

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