That opium – the base element of morphine and therefore heroin – has been around for 7000 years? It was used in the Mediterranean region for purposes such as anesthetics and food, but also for rituals. Many ancient nations, among which the Sumerians, Assyrians, Minoans, and the Indians used opium as a strong painkiller – the strongest at the time – allowing surgeons to perform the more complicated or prolonged surgeries. Before morphine was invented, the medical use of opium carried through the ages, including during the American Civil War.
In the 11th, 12th, and 13th century, the Crusaders started bringing opium back to Europe. In the 14th century, opium was already used for it recreational effects in the Ottoman Empire, from which is quickly moved to Europe, long before India and China joined the trade.
In 1804, the German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner first isolated morphine. By 1820, noscapine, strychnine, veratrine, colchicine, caffeine, and quinine had also been isolated. 1832 introduced codeine to the world. 1874 saw the synthesis of heroin, which was, however, not pursued until 1897. Initially, it was marketed as non-addictive children’s cough medicine.
To date, morphine remains the leading painkiller for medical use, so much so that it is the drug of choice for American combat medics.
However, due to the addictive potential of opioids, opium has been prohibited in most countries starting with the early 20th century. Nowadays, legal production is heavily regulated under the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and intensely monitored by law enforcement agencies around the world.
Heroin, probably the best known opioid, is also one of the more dangerous member of this family. Its side effects include impaired mental function, respiratory depression, and infected heart valves or pneumonia, when injected.
History is fun and interesting, real life implies responsibility. Nowadays, handheld portable drug kits are used for drug testing and drug screening, helping healthcare professional and law enforcement alike in the endeavor to save lives.