Opium and cocaine are complicating the war on drugs because of their medicinal uses, which is a theme that traces back to the Civil War. During the Civil War, morphine (an opium derivative) was used to treat wounded soldiers. The lack of regulation around the medicinal usage caused many soldiers to develop addictions. Another opium derivative, heroin, was sold over-the-counter as cough syrup.
As the United States advanced, the idea began to arise that the federal government should have more power and should be more responsible for the overall well-being of the society. One of the ways the government tried to improve society is through its crackdown on drugs, starting with Prohibition in the early 20th century. This really took hold later in that century with the focus on targeting cannabis and other recreational drugs.
The public grew concerned with the recreational usage of these drugs in all walks of life, from the social elite all the way to the homeless. These drugs were also seen as a major cause of homelessness. In an attempt to clean up the streets, the government began enacting harsh drug policies on the supply side.
One major obfuscation today comes in the form of the opioid crisis. Opioids, also derivatives of opium, are highly successful in pain management. Doctors prescribe them at will without considering their highly addictive nature. As such, many people are introduced to these drugs medically, but once their prescriptions are out, they find themselves in the throes of a full-blown addiction, no different than the addiction a heroin user faces. When these opioids become hard to acquire, many people turn to heroin, which has a high mortality rate.