The History of Heroin

Since there has been a spike in recent years of people who abuse heroin, and also who overdose because of it, it’s easy to feel like it’s a relatively new drug. In reality, while the heroin abuse problem may have grown and now affects nearly every group of people and community in some way, it’s certainly not new.

The history of heroin is a long one, and the drug has continued to play a role in everything from the medical world to addiction problems.

The History of Heroin
Even if you know heroin isn’t a relatively new drug, you may not know that the history of heroin began well before the 1960s. In the 1800s, opium was a popular drug and people would often visit opium dens where they would use the drug that was brought to the U.S.. and also countries like England by Chinese immigrants.

Even people who were famous in the U.S. history were known to go to opium dens, and it was touted as a cure for alcoholism in the late 1800s.

Morphine was also derived from opium at the start of the 1800s, and it was used to treat pain from medical procedures and injuries. By the middle of the 1800s, morphine was incredibly popular in the medical world, and it wasn’t until after the Civil War that the addictive nature of the drug started to be seen.

Because of the Civil War, the number of people who were exposed to morphine spiked rapidly, and unfortunately, many soldiers were addicted to the drug. The country went through a morphine epidemic at that point, and doctors and people in the medical field were searching for ways to treat pain without the use of morphine.

So who invented heroin? A drug was introduced in 1874 that many thought might be the answer, thus the start of the history of heroin. C.R. Alder Wright created it and it was derived from morphine, which is from the opium poppy.

Wright was an English chemist working at a medical school in London, and he first synthesized the components of morphine, but he didn’t continue working on it after that. It wasn’t until more than 20 years later that a German chemist named Felix Hofmann who worked at Bayer pharmaceutical company created an acetylated form of morphine. The drug was significantly more potent than morphine, and Bayer named it heroin, which was because of the strength of the drug.

The team at Bayer wasn’t the first who made heroin, but they did lead the charge in terms of commercializing it.

So, when was heroin first used?

It started being used in a pretty widespread way at the end of the 1800s.

From its introduction through the early 1900s, heroin was available over-the-counter in a kit that contained the drug and a hypodermic needle. It was even marketed to kids during a time when tuberculosis was one of the top reasons young children died.

The belief at that time was that heroin was less addictive than morphine, and it was even used as a way to treat addiction to morphine. Basically, when Wright initially synthesized heroin, it was because he was looking for a version of morphine that wouldn’t be addictive.

Heroin and other derivatives of opiates weren’t regulated in the U.S. until 1920, but that’s when Congress passed the Dangerous Drug Act. That made over-the-counter buying of these drugs illegal, but by 1925 there were already hundreds of thousands of heroin addicts in the U.S.

It was in the 1920s that the term junkie started being used. People in New York City addicted to heroin started collecting scrap metal to support their drug use, which is why they were called junkies.

Vietnam was also a key time in the history of heroin. Along when looking at who invented heroin and when was heroin first used, the 1960s and 70s were a pivotal time for drug use in general in the U.S., and that usage included heroin.

There was a significant percentage of U.S. servicemen who served in Vietnam who were reportedly addicted to heroin. This prompted President Nixon to form the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention. This group conducted research showing that a staggering 20% of soldiers identified themselves as addicts.

Of course, the history of heroin and when was heroin first used go back to the 1800s, but it’s been a potent drug that’s impacted America and the world nearly every decade since then, and it continues to.

The History of Heroin
5 (100%) 1 vote