Laos is a country in Southeast Asia, landlocked by China, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Like other countries in the region, it became subject to French administration in the 19th Century. It did not gain full independence until 1954. Its monarchy ended a short time later due to civil war; the country remains a single party Communist state.
Laos has long been one of the largest producers of opium, although this has gradually reduced over the last twenty years due to crop reduction and other initiatives. Opium is a narcotic obtained from the latex of the opium poppy. There is evidence of its use as far back at 4200BC; some properties of the plant are also used for codeine. The levels of morphine also mean it is used in the manufacture of heroin. Opium was traditionally used for recreational purposes, which also applied to Europe after travel and trade routes gradually opened up. There are many cultural examples of opium use in Western culture, perhaps most famously in Thomas de Quincey's 'Confessions of an English Opium Eater' (1822). The drug came to have a dark glamour, with associations of dissolute behaviour, creativity and licentiousness.