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History of Heroin


Opium and its derivatives, such as laudanum, codeine, morphine, and heroin, have been used throughout our modern history and between the 16th and 19th centuries to treat pain, cough, and diarrhea. A German pharmacist was able to isolate morphine from opium. By the mid 1800’s the use of opium have reached epidemic proportions and are marketed in magazines and newspaper and available through mail-order. During the Civil War it is reported that the Union Army alone used more than 10 million opium pills and 2.84 million ounces of opium powder.

Heroin was first produced in 1874 by an English researcher C.R. Wright, who synthesized diacetylmorphine commonly known as Heroin by boiling morphine and acetic anhydride together for many hours. In 1898, Bayer company of Germany introduced heroin for medical use. Originally viewed as effective medicine, heroin was introduced during a time when tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases were widespread, deadly, and treatments were few. Like morphine, however, patients using heroin to relieve symptoms often developed a tolerance to the drug and became addicted.

By the late 19th Century, the medical community was all too aware of highly addictive property of Opiate and heroin. As the growing number of addicts became a real concern in the United States, the Federal government made it an act of law that narcotics be prescribed by a medical professional.

As the addictive properties of heroin became better known, both with advances in science and the sheer growth in the number of reported addicts, the United States passed the Heroin Act of 1924 and prohibited the production, use, or possession of heroin even for medicinal use. The supply of heroin was significantly reduced between the 1920’s and 1930’s due to the legitimate production being outlawed, greater international control into the trafficking of opium, and the impact of World War II impacting border control policies and the shipment of illegal supplies.


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