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Opium is an ancient narcotic that dates back to 3400 BC, when the poppy that produces the drug was first cultivated in Mesopotamia. It was used medicinally since the Neolithic Age as a natural source to induce anesthesia and provide pain relief. It was also in common recreational use all over the world, until China became the first country to ban its use as a recreational drug in the 18th century. In the 19th century in the United States, doctors frequently prescribed it to treat pain, often giving it to women as a pain medication and even giving it to infants to help with teething pain. As a result, many opium addicts ended up being older women. It was so popular (and addictive) that Chinatowns in many U.S. cities were home to opium dens. The drug wasn’t made illegal in the U.S. until the early 20th century, effectively ending its use as a recreational substance.

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