The History of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction has plagued much of the world for over a hundred years. First developed in the nineteenth century, it was meant to be a more potent alternative to medicinal morphine. Like other opiates, however, it has proven to be extremely addictive. In order to better understand the current epidemic of substance abuse, more people should learn about the history of heroin.

Morphine as a Precursor

Prior to the nineteenth century, the vast majority of pain-relieving drugs were relatively simple. Even during the American Civil War, most soldiers alleviated pain and prepared for surgery with large amounts of alcohol. Opium had already been popular for thousands of years, but it was usually smoked or infused in its natural form.

In 1805, however, a German scientists named Friedrich Sertürner developed morphine – one of the first synthetic drugs. Widespread use began in the mid-1850s, soon after the invention of the hypodermic needle. Soldiers around the world continued to use it throughout the twentieth century, and many militaries and hospitals still use it today.

Development of Heroin

In 1874, a British chemist named C.R. Wright attempted to synthesize a safer and more effective alternative to morphine; the result was what we now call heroin. However, the drug didn’t become popular until more than twenty years later, when it was recreated by German scientists Felix Hoffman and Heinrich Dresser. Ironically, they chose its name because of its “heroically” powerful effects.

First Uses

Heroin was originally used to treat a variety of ailments. Some people used it as a cough and cold suppressant, while others took it as an insomnia cure. Because it works so quickly, many doctors and soldiers also began using heroin in place of morphine as a painkiller. It was legally sold at pharmacies across the United States, and physicians often condoned its use.

Unfortunately, the Bayer corporation also sold heroin as a cure for morphine addiction. When it was first developed, researchers believed that it would prove less habit-forming than morphine – despite its increased potency. By 1910, however, The United States and Great Britain were both struggling with widespread heroin addiction.

Due in part to the addictive nature of heroin, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914. This law made it illegal to sell heroin without a pharmaceutical license – or to use it without a prescription. In 1924, the federal government outright banned its possession, sale, and manufacture.

At the beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1970s, Congress took further action against heroin with the Controlled Substances Act. This legislation established the current scheduling system. Heroin is listed as a Schedule I drug, and even personal possession can lead to prison sentences of five years or more.

Ongoing Problems

Despite a forty-year drug war, the United States continues to suffer from some of the worst heroin problems in the world. It has only become more available over the last hundred years, especially with the growth of the opium trade in Afghanistan and Mexico. Russia, the United Kingdom, and other industrialized nations also struggle with massive rates of addiction.

If you’re addicted to heroin or any other drug, now is the time to get help. Call the number at the top of your screen for a toll-free consultation, and learn how you get clean through Florida drug rehab. Addiction is a terrible disease, but you can achieve lasting recovery if you only ask for help.

About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More

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