Heroin

An Illustrated History

Reviewed by M.C. Reid

Posted January 12, 2023

Should hard drugs such as heroin be decriminalized? Should users of these drugs be supported in their efforts to obtain fixes in safe and convenient environments? Or should they be jailed or forced into rehab?

Public policy surrounding recreational drug use is often contentious and divisive. Hardliners want to throw the book at “junkies.” Harm-reduction advocates urge an end to the “war on drugs” in favour of supporting safe injection sites and other tools that reduce drug-related death tolls.

In Heroin: An Illustrated History, Susan Boyd comes down squarely on the side of harm-reduction. A professor emerita of the University of Victoria and a self-described scholar-activist, Boyd was compelled to write the book as a clarion call to end “punitive policies that drive the illegal overdose crisis.”

Amply illustrated and well-argued, Heroin charts centuries-long efforts to demonize both hard drugs and those who use them. Boyd condemns the racism and colonization that fuelled these efforts and urges both governments and Canadian society as a whole to rethink drug policies before more lives are lost to the illicit drug trade

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This article originally appeared in the February-March 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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