An examination of the origins of the laws prohibiting the use of opiates in the United States is provided. The primary focus is on how the development of these laws influenced a marked shift in the perception of opiates. Historically, opium and its derivatives have been perceived as efficacious medicines. However, during the past two centuries this perception has shifted to the point that contemporarily the opiates are commonly thought of as a social menace. This perception now outweighs the efficacious medicine perception to a substantial degree. A historical analysis indicates that this shift occurred not so much because the hazardous potential for addiction and overdose was discovered, nor because recreational use became widespread; rather, this shift was greatly influenced by underlying national economic conditions and concerns.