The narcotic opium is obtained from the unripe seedpods of the opium poppy. A plant of the family Papaveraceae, opium is acquired by slightly cutting the seed capsules of the poppy after the plant’s flower petals have fallen.
First of all, the earliest reference to opium (opioids) use dates back a very, very long time. All the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, in fact.
Originally cultivated in 3400 B.C., the Sumerians referred to the opium poppy as “Hul Gil”— meaning the “Joy Plant”. This makes absolute sense due to the impact of the drug in today’s society.
Around 460-357 B.C., the father of medicine, Hippocrates, recognized opium’s panacea-like qualities as a narcotic and styptic. Styptic is a substance capable of causing bleeding to stop when applied to a wound in treating various internal maladies, diseases of women, and epidemics. He would prescribe drinking the juice of the white poppy mixed with the seed of nettles.
Sometime around 330 B.C., Alexander the Great is said to have introduced opium to India. The Arabs, Greeks, and Romans used opium as a sedative. The Chinese (220-264 A.D.) used opium preparations and Cannabis indica for patients prior to surgeries.
Despite the drug’s meteoric rise in popularity, opium would disappear from European historical records. Anything from the east at the time was associated with evil or the devil.
From Sedative to Pain Reliever
Fast forward several hundred years. In 1527, Swiss-German alchemist, Paracelsus, introduced opium pills containing citrus juice and “quintessence” of gold as an analgesic or pain reliever. Paracelsus would call his preparation laudanum, derived from the Latin verb laudare, meaning, to praise.
The 1800s ushered in a new era for drug abuse and addiction, especially for post-war soldiers. German chemist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertuner is said to have been the first to isolate the narcotic morphine from opium. He named the narcotic appropriately after Morpheus, the god of dreams. With America’s young men fighting countless wars abroad, morphine soon became the “mainstay” of medical treatment in the United States. The term “Soldier’s Disease” was born.
And then came 1898. This was the year when the deadly drug, heroin, was synthesized as a derivative of morphine, because, if you can believe it, Bayer, a German chemical company, offered heroin as a cough suppressant. It was also marketed as a “non-addictive” morphine substitute.
In addition, in the early 1990s, community groups began sending free samples of heroin assisting morphine addicts to kick their addiction. In 1909, Congress jumped in and passed the Opium Exclusion Act. This was the nation’s first drug prohibition law, which barred the import of opium for the purpose of smoking. Some say this was the opening shot, unleashing unprecedented crime, violence, and corruption. This became an endless war with no end or victory in sight.
As a result, there have been countless documented events and legislative actions that have not only sought to fix the drug crisis but also promoted and cultivated the crisis by creating an uncontrolled and abused landscape that we are now trying to right.
The Opium Crisis Continues
For the complete timeframe of opioids, please see the link.
2016 was a landmark year for the United States as the opioid epidemic left a trail of death in its wake.
According to a 2017 CBS article, the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, show that more people (approximately 64,070) have died from drug overdoses in 2016 than in the Vietnam War, which totaled 58,200 deaths. Therefore, these numbers are up 21 percent from the previous year.
As a result, after decades of pharmaceutical companies turning a blind eye to preventable death and destruction on account of unimaginative monetary gains, Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, has released a 23-page report, titled, Fueling an Epidemic. She sheds light on the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to shape public opinion and fuel demand for lucrative and addictive drugs.
“The pharmaceutical industry spent a generation downplaying the risks of opioid addiction and trying to expand their customer base for these incredibly dangerous medications and this report makes clear they made investments in third-party organizations that could further those goals. These financial relationships were insidious, lacked transparency, and are one of the many factors that have resulted in arguably the deadliest drug epidemic in American history.”
McCaskill’s report also shows that 2016’s drug fatalities outnumbered motor vehicles deaths (35,092) in 2015, AIDS-related deaths (50,628) during the height of the crisis in 1995, suicides (44,193) in 2015 and homicides (24,703) in 1991, its peak year.
And that’s your Tuesday dose of truth.
Especially relevant: in case you missed last week’s, click here.
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