Heroin: Therapeutic use

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 4:09 pm

Because of its analgesic (painkilling) properties, opium and its derivatives have long been used for the treatment of ailments. Throughout the nineteenth century in England and the United States, opium was administered in plasters, pills, cough drops, lozenges, and many other applications dispensed by physicians and pharmacists.
In 1895, while working for the Bayer Company in Germany, Heinrich Dreser produced a drug he thought was as effective an analgesic as morphine, but without its harmful side effects. Bayer began mass production of diacetylmorphine, and in 1898 began marketing the new drug under the brand name “heroin” as a cough sedative.
Pharmacists in France, England, and the United States regularly marketed heroin as an excellent pain killer and a cure for disease, including respiratory ailments and diarrhea.
Several medical societies in the United States at that time offered heroin as a safe means of treating morphine addiction. Articles appearing in American medical journals early in the twentieth century spoke highly of heroin’s ability to soothe the painful aches, shakes, and vomiting experienced by recovering morphine addicts, and it was widely used as a “step down” cure.
Within a decade, doctors realized they were merely substituting one opiate addiction for an even more powerful one.
Internationally, heroin’s use as a medicine wasn’t regulated until 1925 when the League of Nations adopted strict rules governing international heroin trade. The same body later stipulated that heroin producers could only manufacture quantities sufficient for medical use, though these guidelines were unenforceable and largely ignored.

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