The Nation in Pain: American Bodies and Indian Pharmaceuticals in an Age of Distress


ACLS Fellowship Program




In 2010, in the shadow of an economic crisis and three decades of deindustrialization, Americans consumed a quarter million pounds of opioids—more than 80 percent of the world’s total supply. Yet even as US cities and towns have been blighted by prescription opioids and cheap heroin, the source of these drugs remains shrouded in mystery. Save for fully synthetic opioids manufactured in laboratories, the overwhelming majority of the gelcaps, tablets, liquids, and lollipops consumed in the United States were produced from poppies grown in India, the lucrative byproduct of a colonial opium industry reanimated in the twentieth century. Through critical archival and ethnographic work, this project interrogates the interlinked rise of the US opioid epidemic and the Indian pharmaceutical industry, showing how American pain and Indian agriculture and industry have been sutured together over the last century.