Heroin – A Historical Overview

Opium was the first opioid with use dating back to the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, circa 3400 BC. Sumerians cultivated opium from the resin of poppy plants, and named the drug, Hul Gil, or the joy plant. Poppy culling transitioned from the Assyrians to the Babylonians and then to the Egyptians, who profited from the opiate trade. When King Tut ruled, so did opium. Eventually, opium made its way across the Mediterranean Sea into Greece, and finally to Europe. In 330 BC, Alexander the Great not only conquered the Persian Empire, but he introduced opium to its people.

Opium was popular for centuries. During the 14th century, opium use disappeared from historical records because the Inquisition’s appointed tribunals believed that Eastern imports were the work of the Devil. During the 15th century, the Portuguese smoked opium, and throughout the Reformation, opium was reestablished as a painkiller, and made its way back to European medical texts.

The drug became a fixture throughout Europe and Great Britain. During the late 18th century, the Great British India Tea Company launched a monopoly on opium trade. And in 1836, a German company manufactured morphine. By 1840, New Englanders brought along 24,000 pounds of opium to the United States.

Doctors thought they had struck gold.

Opium was mixed with anything and everything. One popular mixture was laudanum, a mahogany-colored tincture made of opium and ethanol. The bitter-tasting extract was prescribed by doctors for cancer, childbirth, menstruation, asthma, coughs, meningitis, yellow fever, cardiac disease and other maladies, from A to Z.

Since vaccines were not processed until the early 20th century, laudanum was prescribed to patients suffering from spasms, as a result of tetanus.

During The Great Binge (1870 to 1918), moms gave between five and 25 drops of laudanum marketed as Stickney and Poors Paregoric Syrup to babies, including newborns, and/or toddlers. The determined dosage was dependent on age. As a result, some babies became addicts before they could crawl. The only hope a child had of being spared addiction was if the administering parent or nurse took the recommended adult dose, and felt the euphoric side effects. By experiencing chemical jubilation, the adults guarded the potion, like greedy squirrels hiding acorns. Besides this odd syrup, another company manufactured cherry-flavored children’s cough drops containing opium.

Mary Todd Lincoln who psychologists believe had bipolar disorder, self-medicated with laudanum. Lincoln was a well-known laudanum addict. During the Victorian era in England, many Romantic era writers succumbed to laudanum addiction, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater. While historians are not sure if the author Mary Shelley ever consumed laudanum, she was quite familiar with its effects. Not only were her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their mutual friend, Lord Byron addicts, but also her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, committed suicide with a laudanum overdose.

Back then addicts’ hallucinations included monsters and ghosts.

And if she never tried laudanum, Shelley knew about monsters. She is the author of Frankenstein, and The Last Man.

By the end of the 19th century, Bayer Heroin was introduced, having been synthesized from morphine. By 1903, there was a major heroin addiction throughout the US. The first heroin epidemic started after World War Two, followed by an epidemic in the late 1960s, resulting from US soldiers becoming addicted while serving in Vietnam.

Throughout the 19th century, heroin gathered many nicknames, including smack, H, dope, junk and White Lady.

Presently, the United States is experiencing the worst heroin epidemic ever in the nation’s history. According to Frontline, heroin and other opioids claim about 27,000 lives a year nationwide. Death rates surpass those of AIDS during the 1990’s.

The Center of Disease Control and Prevention believes that there are more heroin-related deaths, because dope is cheaper to buy, and the lower price gives addicts incentive to transition to heroin from costlier opiate painkillers. In addition to a reduced street price, typically between $15 and $20 for one individual dose, heroin’s potency and purity has intensified. Besides those factors, heroin is occasionally mixed with other deadlier opiate compounds, including fentanyl and Carfentanil.

During her presidential campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We need much more in the way of treatment…” And former Drug Czar, Michael Botticelli, who has almost 28 years of recovery, said that there is a huge stigma in our society surrounding drug abuse, which worsens the situation.

Like Clinton, Botticelli believes that clinical, evidence-based treatment is the solution to this horrifying scenario.

As he tweeted on December 13, 2016, “we must support young people through evidence-based prevention efforts, and treatment for those with substance abuse disorders.”

At Cycles of Change Recovery Services we provide evidence-based modalities, a 12-step approach and dual diagnosis support.

If you or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, or any other substance abuse disorder, please do not hesitate to call us at Cycles of Change.

We are here to help.

We know what its like to struggle with substance addiction.

Many of us have been there ourselves.