A Brief History of Heroin

Heroin abuse and overdose death rates are on the rise around the nation, but where did this deadly drug come from? The highly addictive opiate derivative, heroin, is more than a century old. The dangerous drug that has so many people flocking into our facility for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach was originally developed by German pharmaceutical company Bayer as a powerful pain reliever, soporific and cough remedy.

A Dye Manufacturer Diversifies into Scientific Research

German merchant Friedrich Bayer founded his eponymous company in 1863 in Elberfeld, Germany. The company originally took advantage of then-cutting-edge technologies for manufacturing dyes from coal-tar. By the 1870s, Germany was producing six times more coal-tar dye than England or France. But when the market fell out of the German dye industry by the mid-1880s, Bayer decided to diversify his company’s product range by investing in scientific research. It was a decision that would have terrible consequences for the many people who would later find themselves in need of our facility for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach.

The Invention of Heroin

Prior to the 19th century, medicines had always been prepared using natural materials. The first synthetic chemical medicine was invented in 1805 by the German pharmacist Friedrich Serturner, who isolated and purified opium’s main active ingredient. He called his invention morphine.

The science of pharmacology developed rapidly throughout the 19th century. The invention of the hypodermic needle in 1853 made it possible for doctors to administer precise doses of the new synthetic medications. It would, of course, be that same invention that would enable 20th and 21st-century heroin addicts to intravenously abuse the drug that sends so many into our program for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach.

With the invention of synthetic drugs derived from plants, chemists were now free to tinker with the molecular structures of substances found in nature in order to create more effective, more potent or safer synthetic medications. A team of German chemists led by Heinrich Dreser began the work that would lead to the invention of heroin in the late 1890s. Dreser and his colleagues augmented morphine molecules with two new acetyl groups to create the drug now known as heroin, which takes its name from the German adjective heroisch, a common 19th century term for a potent medicine.

A Miracle Drug

In its early days, heroin was hailed as a miracle drug – no one had yet seen the addictive potential that would later make programs like ours for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach necessary. Respiratory complaints, like tuberculosis and pneumonia, were leading causes of death at the turn of the 19th century, and the use of heroin to treat these conditions was rapidly adopted in nations throughout the world. At the time, there were no such things as antibiotics and vaccines were only in their infancy. Doctors had no way to treat painful respiratory diseases aside from prescribing powerful narcotics that would help patients sleep and relieve their pain. Today we know that heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier more readily than morphine, making it a more potent pain reliever and a much more addictive drug, as the popularity of heroin treatment programs at our facility for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach proves.

Evidence of Heroin’s Addictive Potential Emerges and Outpatient Addiction Treatment Begins

Tellingly, early physicians’ reports indicate that no patients experienced unpleasant drug reactions when treated with heroin; in fact, most patients liked the drug so much that they continued to take it even after their courses of treatment had ended. Physicians of the time were well aware that morphine, the drug from which heroin was derived, was very addictive. The chemists who created heroin hoped to eliminate morphine’s addictive potential, while retaining its pain-relief properties, by altering its chemical structure to create heroin. Unfortunately, by 1903, it had become obvious that the attempts to create a non-addictive form of morphine that led to the invention of heroin were unsuccessful. Physicians began to notice that their patients needed higher and higher doses of heroin to achieve the same therapeutic effects, and that the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin were even worse than those associated with morphine.

Our facility for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach is struggling with an opiate addiction epidemic that has gripped the United States for the past 15 years. In the early years of the 20th century, opiate addiction was also a serious problem in the United States. At that time, there was no federal regulation of pharmaceutical manufacturer, and many over-the-counter patent medicines and health tonics contained addictive substances. Historians estimate that, at the turn of the 20th century, more than a quarter of the United States population was addicted to some form of opiate drug. It would not be until 1914, with the Harrison Narcotic Act, that heroin and other opiates would finally be outlawed in the United States.

Recovery from opiate addiction is possible with help from our facility for outpatient addiction treatment in Delray Beach. Call The Delray Center for Healing today at 888-699-5679 to learn more.