The History of Drugs In Society

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Bonus 4: Fentanyl with Jon Caulkins

Hello and welcome to the History of Drugs in Society, where we explore the history of different substances and how we’ve lived alongside and interacted with them. I’m your host, Eugene Leventhal. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how fentanyl markets came about and how they look like today, you should enjoy this discussion. In this episode, I interview Jon Caulkins, who is a University Professor Of Operations Research And Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Our interview focuses on fentanyl in the United States, looking at both the history and current state of fentanyl market. We talk about the impact of COVID-19 on fentanyl markets, what evidence there has been of fentanyl being mixed with other drugs, and what a term like morphine equivalent dose means and why it’s important to know. We also touch on safe supply, regional and international trends in synthetic opioid usage, and where data on overdoses come from. 

Pulling from his bio on the Heinz College site, “Jon Caulkins has been on the Heinz College faculty since 1990, with leaves of absence to be co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica (1994-1996), to found RAND’s Pittsburgh Office (1999-2001), and to teach at Carnegie Mellon’s campus in Doha, Qatar (2005-2011).



Here is the link to the UN report mention

Other links:

Bonus 3: Needle Exchange Service in Philadelphia with Clayton Ruley, Prevention Point Philadelphia

My guest this week is Clayton Ruley, who is the Director of Community Engagement and Volunteer Services for Prevention Point Philadelphia. We talk about harm reduction overall as well as how these services have been affected as a result of COVID-19. We also get into questions regarding community, policy, and what makes Clayton most hopeful in terms of harm reduction. 


In case you want to learn more:

Prevention Point Philadelphia


  • What is prevention point and what do they do - 1:58 
  • What’s your background - 2:56 
  • What brought you to Phill - 3:52
  • Importance of community in terms of managing addiction - 4:15
  • Internal vs external community - 5:52
  • How has Covid affected needle exchange services - 6:38 
  • How have the operations changed - 9:00
  • Is prevention point involved in the mail home narcan program - 10:13
  • How might harm reduction change moving forward - 10:52
  • Any concerns of increased usage during social isolation - 14:15
  • Policy changes you want to see change - 15:23
  • What makes you most hopefully in terms of harm reduction - 16:16
  • Anything that makes you least hopeful - 17:31
  • Any organizations to highlight - 19:32
  • How can people support prevention point - 20:36
  • Outro - 22:03

2. Opium as a Commodity Part 1 (Ancient - 1600s)

Opium has been traded for a long time. It was part of a variety of goods that have been bought and sold for millenia. In this episode of the History of Drugs in Society, we start by exploring the early evolution of opium being traded, Marco Polo and the Silk Road, and European colonization in Asia through the 1600s. 

Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@DrugsHistory) or email (

The audio used for the intro comes from The Great Age of Exploration (1400-1550) Documentary from Discovery Education Documentary and The Distant Drummer: Flowers of Darkness as posted on C-SPAN. Credits on the music goes to Blue Dot Sessions. 

Bonus 2: Creating the American Junkie with Prof. Caroline Acker

In this episode, I interview Prof. Carolina Acker. She is a historian, professor emerita at Carnegie Mellon's Dietrich College, and author of the book Creating the American junkie. We touch on topics ranging from the history of psychiatry to the laws that started drug prohibition to the changing nature of who was using opiates from the 1890s through the first half of the 20th century. We talk a lot about the context around drug usage and the study of addiction, though a few questions are directly related to opium and its usage. 

You can learn more about:
Caroline Acker
Creating the American Junkie 
Prevention Point

Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@DrugsHistory) or over email ( 

Bonus 1: Covid-19 & Opioid Markets

This episode will review the impacts of the coronavirus on both illegal and legal drug markets. In terms of illegal markets, this includes how drug trafficking organizations and street-level drug markets have been affected. As far as legal markets go, we'll take a look at how harm reduction and medical support services and opioid prescriptions overall are dealing with the pandemic, and an example of disinformation. 

You can find the full transcript with citations here

Audio used for the intro:

Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@DrugsHistory) and email (

1. Opium as a Medicine - Ancient-1800s

In the first full episode of the History of Drugs in Society, we explore opium as medicine. This will take us from its origins thousands of years ago until the early 1800s. One of the main points of this episode is to see when opioid usage started in the doctor's office. 

Intro clip takes audio from Dr. Lydia Kang's talk entitled Origin of Opium and Heroin Treatment from C-SPAN on 12/11/2017. 

Some main sources used include: 

  • Opium by John Halpern and David Blistein
  • Milk of Paradise by Lucy Inglis
  • Opium's Human History by Lucy Inglis, Natural History, Mar 2019

You can find a full list of sources here

About The Podcast

In this episode, I go over why I am doing this, what you can expect from the podcast, some context on where this journey ends, and some terms. All of this is meant to provide some additional context but isn't necessary to follow the podcast. Feel free to reach out over email

Credit to Blue Dot Sessions for the music. You can find the audio used for in the intro on C-SPAN.

For a full list of citations, you can go here

Trailer: History of Drugs in Society

This is a brief introduction to the History of Drugs in Society podcast, which is launching on April 7th. This podcast explores the history of different substances and how we’ve lived alongside and interacted with them. 

I hope you'll join along for the journey. Feel free to reach out at 

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