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Fentanyl: A Historical Irony

Published: June 24, 2016

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that a wave of Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is hitting the country. The source of the drug, which can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin, is China.

Fentanyl is proving to be highly toxic, claiming thousands of lives, including that of rock star Prince earlier this year.

It is ironic that China should be flooding the West with a deadly opioid. Early in the 18th century, Great Britain sought to ease its trade deficit with China with opium grown from its Indian colonies. By 1838, the British were selling about 1.4 million tons of opium to China every year.

When Chinese authorities sought to curb the opium traffic, Britain sent a military force to protect its market. Defeated in the Opium Wars which followed, China was forced to hand over control of several of its ports to the British.

It was probably unthinkable then that China would ever be in a position to return the West’s favor, introducing a powerful, addictive narcotic to foreigners. But in 1912, the nationalist stirrings in China prompted the Post editors to wonder how that country, if united and powerful, might repay the treatment it had received.

The Yellow Peril

Originally published on January 20, 1912

Four hundred and thirty-three million is the latest estimate of the population of China. Whether these people, or any large proportion of them, are capable of making a real nation at this time and “adopting Western civilization” no one can yet pretend to say; but we rather hope not, for it might prove uncomfortable for the rest of the world.

If China were capable of exerting a national power in proportion to her population at all approximating that of an Occidental state or of Japan, and adopted Western civilization, she would, of course, at once begin to pillage and oppress every state that was weaker than herself — just as Western civilization has pillaged and bullied her ever since she has had any experience of it.

Following Great Britain’s civilized example in the Opium War, she would promptly dispatch a fleet, four and a half times as powerful as ours, to shoot up San Francisco and other Pacific Coast cities until we agreed to admit her coolies or any other product which she wished to force upon us.

A local ordinance in Seattle that injured the hand-laundry business would be quite sufficient excuse for her to establish a protectorate over Washington, Oregon, and as much of the hinterland as she could profitably use. It was only a few years ago that Western civilization turned loose upon Peking a horde of looting vandals who destroyed whatever precious stuffs they did not choose to steal.

We should really shudder to see China adopt the methods Western civilization has taught her, provided her power to follow the example were in proportion to her numbers.

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  • Edythe Harley

    While there are dangers associated with Fentanyl, the drug is a god-send to those of us with chronic pain. Many people are able to utilize this drug without ever experiencing any of the problems associated with drug abuse. I have been using the lowest dose of the fentanyl patch for 5 years, allowing me to eliminate many of the other drugs I had been taking, and making it possible for me to live a somewhat normal life. Without it, I was unable to function. The recent deluge of articles claiming the drug has no redeeming qualities and suggesting it is useless as a treatment for chronic pain is very misleading, to say the least.