From the seventeenth century, the use of opium and opium-containing preparations became increasingly common in the Netherlands and other Northern European countries. International trade routes brought the raw opium; opium prepared for consumption became available in pharmacies and was used as medication, on prescription or as self-medication. In the course of the nineteenth century, more and more attention was paid to the negative effects of opiate use. This resulted in an international regime of drug regulation in the twentieth century. This made a clear distinction between medical (under strict conditions) and non-medical use (prohibited).
Non-medical use continued in the Netherlands. In Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Chinese migrants used opium, which was brought in through international smuggling networks. In the 1970s, Chinese triads and later Turkish and Kurdish crime families turned to heroin trafficking. The resulting heroin epidemic was a major social disturbance in the 1970s and 1980s.
The introduction and popularization of a 'new' generation of strong synthetic opioids led to another wave of opiate consumption at the beginning of the 21st century. In America, it grew into a dramatic opioid crisis.