Heroin History Timeline in the U.S.

Heroin is one of the most damaging and also notorious illegal drugs in the U.S. The U.S. is currently in the midst of a staggering opioid epidemic, and heroin is front and center in that.

It’s an illegal drug that’s responsible for countless deaths and immense destruction to families and even entire communities.

Heroin History | Heroin History Timeline in the U.S.
Heroin is an illicit opioid, meaning it’s not used for medical purposes in the U.S., although it does act on the central nervous system much like prescription opioid painkillers.

When heroin is used, it binds to opioid receptors throughout the central nervous system, and it has a pain-relieving effect. It can initially create a sense of euphoria and well-being. Following the high of heroin, people often feel drowsy and sluggish, and they may nod off or appear visibly impaired. Heroin is highly addictive and also easy to develop a physical dependence on, so withdrawal from the drug is difficult.

Despite the fact that heroin is so relevant in the opioid epidemic, a lot of people don’t fully understand the history of the drug.

The following is an overview of the heroin history timeline and heroin addiction history.

Heroin is derived from morphine and opium, and while heroin itself has a history only dating back to around 1874, morphine and opium have a much longer history in the world.

For example, opium was discovered in the Mediterranean mountains sometime between 10,200 B.C. and 2,000 B.C. Following that the use of opium spread throughout the world, and in Europe opium and then morphine began to be used in medicine for hundreds of years.

The discovery of heroin itself was credited to C.R. Wright in England in 1874. Wright boiled morphine and acetic anhydride, and that was the first version of synthesized heroin. The early iterations of heroin had side effects that were seen as negative including anxiety and vomiting, so Wright ended his research. It wasn’t until 1895 that a German scientist by the name of Heinrich Dreser who worked for the Bayer company started looking at it again as a way to treat respiratory conditions.

The Bayer pharmaceutical company started making diacetylmorphine, and its marketing name was heroin. Heroin became available over-the-counter at this point.

Heroin was viewed as a cure-all for everything from headaches to the common cold. Many of the people who used heroin were wealthy people, and it was viewed as a safe alternative to morphine because it was seen as less addictive. People who were addicted to morphine, as well as codeine, were given heroin as a way to treat their addiction.

Heroin addiction history begins primarily during the Civil War.

By the mid-1800s opium was popular, and there were opium dens around the world including in the U.S. Opium dens were prevalent in the “wild west” largely because Chinese immigrants brought it with them when they came to work on the railroads.

Around the 1850s morphine became available in the U.S. and it was popular in medicine. It was used to treat pain, and during the Civil War, it was one of the primary treatment options for injured soldiers. During this time, doctors were amazed at its ability to help with even severe pain, but following the Civil War, it started to be seen that morphine had a serious side effect, which was addiction.

Following the Civil War, there were tens of thousands of soldiers from both sides that were addicted to morphine, and it became an epidemic in the U.S. just a short time after it was introduced in the country. Doctors were concerned and searched for ways to deal with the problem, and that’s why the introduction of heroin in Germany became interesting to physicians in the U.S.

After the German invention of heroin, it was imported to the U.S., and the sales pitch for it was that it was a safe and non-addictive alternative to morphine.
That’s when heroin addiction began in the U.S., and it remains a serious problem.

The history of heroin in the U.S. began in the late 1800s, and by the early 1900s, the drug was available over-the-counter as it was in Germany. There were even kits sold that include hypodermic needles and vials of opiates. There were advertising and marketing campaigns that shown heroin was a remedy for pretty much every ailment.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that regulation was introduced for the sale of heroin and other opiates.

The Dangerous Drug Act was introduced and made into law by Congress, and it regulated the sale of heroin and other opiates, so they could no longer be available over-the-counter.

Despite this move, there were around 200,000 heroin addicts already in the U.S.
There have been waves of heroin crises throughout the years, including in the 1970s.
Now, while it’s been more than a century since the original crackdown on heroin, America is still in an opioid crisis. It’s been declared a national emergency.

Heroin History Timeline in the U.S.
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