Far from eliminating the problem, The Heroin Act simply caused the growth of secret drug labs in China. Organized crime gangs in Europe took control of the industry and the level of unrefined heroin importation to Marseille was so great that it was nicknamed The French Connection. The drug was refined in France and shipped to Europe and northwestern American cities.
Increased security during World War II meant the drug suppliers found it tough to import the narcotic into America. The result was a significant drop in the number of addicts. Sadly, the criminal gangs reverted to ‘business as usual’ by the late 1940s and during the Vietnam War; American soldiers had easy access to the drug. In 1971, two congressmen claimed that 15% of combatants in the war were addicted to the dangerous narcotic.
President Nixon created the Special Action Office of Drug Prevention Abuse to deal with the issue. One study found that soldiers who tried to get clean in America had relapse rates of 95% compared to a rate of just 5% for those who ‘dried out’ in Vietnam. Heroin addiction remains one of the significant issues facing U.S. society today, but America is far from being alone in this regard.
Heroin around the World
Egypt is another country that suffered from heroin addiction in the past. In the 1920s, an estimated 3.5% of Egypt’s population was addicted to the drug! To put this in context; in 2011 it was estimated that only 1.6% of Americans had even tried heroin. The Egyptian problem began in 1916 when the drug became widely available for non-medical consumption. Heroin was available for rock bottom prices and some companies even paid their employees in it! Egyptian addiction hit critical mass in 1929 before declining due to the closure of major Turkish heroin factories and new international regulations.
Heroin wasn’t as big an issue in the United Kingdom which may be why it never cracked down on the drug as quickly or effectively as the United States. While it was made illegal in 1926, it was available in the 1950s when people would queue outside a pharmacist at night to buy their heroin pills on prescription. By the middle of the 1950s, the British Government was under international pressure to ban the manufacture, import, and export of the drug.
As late as 1955, the respected The Times newspaper wrote an article defending heroin! The editorial claimed that only 47.5 people in Britain were addicted to the narcotic; no one is sure what constitutes a ‘half addict.’ Supplying Heroin was upgraded to a capital offense in the U.S. in 1956, but the UK Government backed down from banning heroin. In fact, Britain is one of the few places in the world where you can still get heroin (called diamorphine) on prescription! It is used to treat addicts. MacFarlan Smith is the only legal producer in the UK.
Countries such as Mexico, Bulgaria, Spain and Costa Rica followed America’s lead and banned heroin altogether. Nonetheless, this deadly drug is still a multi-billion dollar business with millions of addicts worldwide.