Heroin: From cough medicine to the world’s ‘most popular drug’

Who doesn’t know Heroin, but did you know that it was used in cough and sore throat medicine for the first time in the last decade of the 19th century until it was first developed in a laboratory?

Today, more than a century later, heroin is one of the world’s most notorious drugs and its use is illegal. In the last 20 years alone, more than 130,000 people have died in the United States due to overuse.
How did heroin come into being and then why was it banned?
The earliest report of heroin production dates back to 1874 when CRA Wright, an English chemist, developed morphine at St. Mary’s Hospital School of Medicine in London.

“At that time, opium and morphine were already being used in medicine, so people knew opioids could be used,” David Herzberg, a medical expert, and professor at the University of Buffalo told a conference.
But Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, says, “With constant use, you get used to it, and it still is. So drug companies are looking for addictive pain relievers.” Don’t be the cause. ‘

So at first, some people thought that heroin would not be addictive to people and that its side effects would be fewer.
In an article published in The Conversation in June 2020, Francisco Lopezmanos and Cecilio Alamo Gonzalez, professors of pharmacology at the University of Camilo Jose Cella and the University of Alcala, write: “The main discovery was that the cough was relieved and the patient fell asleep.

Yet there was little enthusiasm for it in the first few years after heroin was discovered in medicine.
Then, in 1897, when a research team at the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, led by Professor Heinrich Dresser, was looking for an alternative to morphine and codeine (an opioid) that could be used by patients with respiratory diseases, one of its members came up with the idea of using diacetylmorphine instead of Use morphine and codeine.

Researchers first tested it on animals, then on Bayer employees, and finally on the public in Berlin.

Cough treatment

These experiments showed that diacetylmorphine was effective in treating coughs and helping to expel mucus. At that time it was called “hero drug”.
In 1898 Bayer began developing a cough suppressant that used diacetylmorphine as its main ingredient and named it “heroin”.

The drug was in powder form and was available in quantities of one, five, ten, and twenty-five grams. It was later put on sale in the form of syrups, foods, and lozenges.

In “The Conversation,” Lopez Munoz and Alamo write that this cough suppressant was a commercial success and is used by people all over the world. By 1899, the company was selling heroin in more than 20 countries, according to documents from Byron Leverkusen.
According to Herzberg and Humphreys, heroin was sold in general stores in the United States and could be bought by children.

Until 1914, patients didn’t even need a doctor’s prescription to buy heroin.

According to Humphreys, heroin was used not only to treat coughs at the time, but also to treat morphine and alcohol addiction, but doctors soon abandoned the idea.
Risk of addiction

However, with the advent of its commercial use, there were warnings that heroin could be addictive.
David Courtwright, professor of history and medicine at the University of North Florida, says that in the medical literature published between 1900 and 1906, “several articles warn that this drug is addictive”.

According to the Yale University School of Medicine, “doctors and pharmacists soon discovered that patients were overeating and getting used to it.”
However, according to Court Wright, despite these effects, heroin was not addictive in patients who used it to treat coughs.

According to Court Wright, “In the early 20th century, out of 350 people who used morphine, opium, or heroin for the disease, only six were heroin addicts, which is 1.7 percent.”
So why was heroin banned?
The main reason for this, according to experts, was the popularity of heroin among criminals in the 1910s.

According to Court Wright, “the earliest evidence of non-medical heroin use in the United States dates back to 1910 when the drug controversy began.”

But how did heroin get into the crime world?


“The story is that some inmates in the country’s prisons were given heroin as a cough suppressant,” Court Wright says in a chapter in The Hundred Years of Heroin. The rest of the inmates then spread the word that it was a good drug, and then the rumor spread outside the prison.
However, he said that “this rumor about heroin appears to be coming from not just one but many places”.

In addition, heroin was cheaper than cocaine and easier to obtain than opium on the black market, since imports of opium into the United States were banned in 1909.
Yale University School of Medicine says young people in New York used it as a recreational drug until 1912.

Bayer tried to separate its drug from illegally sold heroin, but many American medical institutions have stopped using it since 1916.

In 1924, the US Congress finally banned heroin, and in May 1940 Bayer finally stopped manufacturing the drug.

In the 20th century, many countries of the world took action against heroin, and today possession, sale, or purchase of heroin is a crime in most countries of the world.

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