Opium: Therapeutic use, Treatment. Opium rehab.

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 2:23 pm

Official names: Opium, laudanum, paregoric, Dover’s powder
Street names: Big 0, black stuff, block, gum, hop/hops, ah-pen-yen, Aunti, Aunti Emma, black, black pill, chandoo/chandu, Chinese molasses, Chinese tobacco, dopium, Dover’s deck, dream gun, dream stick, dreams, easing powder, fi-do-nie, gee, God’s medicine, gondola, goric, great tobacco, guma, joy plant, midnight oil, 0, O.P., ope, pen yan, pin gon, pin yen, pox, skee, toxy, toys, when-shee, ze, zero
Drug classifications: Schedule II, narcotic


Key terms

ALKALOID: Any organic agent isolated from plants that contains nitrogen and reacts with an acid to form a salt.
ANALGESIC: A type of drug that alleviates pain without loss of consciousness.
DROSS: The residue remaining in the pipe after prepared opium has been smoked.
NARCOTIC: A natural or synthetic drug that has properties similar to opium or opium derivatives.
OPIATE: Drug derived directly from opium and used in its natural state, without chemical modification. Opiates include morphine, codeine, thebaine, noscapine, and papaverine.
OPIOID: A drug, hormone, or other chemical substance having sedative or narcotic effects similar to those containing opium or its derivatives; a natural brain opiate.
OPIOPHOBIA: The fear of patients becoming addicted to their narcotic pain medication.



Opium, the parent of heroin and a myriad of other addictive derivatives, has a long and fascinating history. Opium has been used for medical, religious, and recreational purposes, and has been featured in, and used to inspire, art, literature, and poetry. As an international commodity, it has been the focus of regulation, legislation, even war. Opium’s addictive and detriMental effects have caused untold suffering throughout history. Its ability to relieve pain has brought untold relief to the injured, ill, and dying.
Opium is a naturally occurring narcotic derived from the annual plant Papaver somniferum, widely known as the opium poppy. Although readily recognized in many countries and even celebrated at various times and places in history, the opium poppy lives legally in the United States and many other countries today only in memory and myth. For example, these poppies are popularly recognized in the United States for their role in the children’s story, The Wizard of Oz, as the flowers the Wicked Witch used to put Dorothy and her companions to sleep as they traveled to the Emerald City in the mythical land of Oz. However, the true history of the drug and the poppy flower tells an intriguing story in itself.
Scholars have suggested several origins for the opium poppy, including southern Europe, Turkey, and northwestern Africa. Exactly when opium came into medicinal and recreational use is also uncertain; however, it is clear that the cultivation of the plant and use of opium are ancient practices, dating to 4000 B.C. or even earlier. Poppy seeds and seed pods have been discovered in the remains of Neolithic lake villages in what is now Switzerland. The Sumerians referred to the opium poppy as Hul Gil, the “joy plant.” The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians cultivated the opium poppy with trade routes extending into Greece and Europe. The opium derivative, thebaine, even takes its name from poppy fields in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. Poppies appeared in Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. Several Roman gods were regularly depicted with poppies. It has even been suggested that the vinegar and gall offered to Jesus Christ during his crucifixion was an opium mixture.
Arab traders introduced the opium poppy east into China sometime between the fifth and the eighth century. It was later traded to Europe by the Venetians and then by the Portuguese. Well-known explorers Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco de Gama were all instructed to find opium.
Opium became very popular, especially in Southeast Asia. Among its attractions, opium provided medicine, cheap recreation, and an alternative to alcohol. It was also affordable to the poor and enabled them to do with less food.
Opium cultivation and use became especially prevalent in India and later in China where the Chinese smoked an opium-tobacco mixture (madak or madhak). Sometime during the mid-1700s, they began to smoke pure opium — a habit that spread from the wealthy to the common people. British merchants, in particular, capitalized on the Chinese demand for opium. By building on their already thriving colonial Indian tea trade, the merchants readily dominated opium trade with China. Tensions between Britain and China over the opium trade eventually resulted in the Opium Wars, two separate conflicts occurring during 1839^-2 and 1856-60. A number of Westerners made great profits in the opium trade, reputedly including John Cushing, John Jacob Astor, and Warren Delano II (grandfather of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt).
In the 1800s, Chinese immigrants took their opium-smoking habit around the globe. Chinese laborers were kept impoverished by their habit when by their creditors would sell them high-priced opium. However, opium smoking and the medicinal use of opium increasingly gained popularity across all levels of society. A number of famous people used or became addicted to opium, including writers who used opium while seeking to enhance creativity, imagination, and spontaneity. Writers that embraced opium during this general period include Goethe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Edgar Allen Poe. Thomas De Quincey even wrote an autobiographical book, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.
By the late 1800s, an unregulated patent medicine trade was booming across the United States. These medicines were actually unpatented concoctions, many containing opium; patent medicines that followed contained morphine, heroin, or cocaine. Similar to today’s over-the-counter medicines, these concoctions were readily available for purchase in pharmacies, grocery stores, bookstores, and even by mail order without a doctor’s prescription. They were marketed as treatments for ailments ranging from athlete’s foot to cancer and were frequently promoted for their painkilling and “soothing” properties. Dover’s Powder (a mixture of ipecac and opium) and Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup (a cough suppressant) were two popular products.
Use of opium-laced medicines was also widespread in Britain. Since there were no laws required labeling the content of these medicines until the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, many users were unaware of exactly what was in their medicine bottle.
Not fully understanding the processes or implications of addiction, physicians encouraged the use of these medicines, which resulted in a growing addiction problem in the United States. The development of opium derivatives compounded the problem. For example, the discovery of morphine, a powerful painkiller derived from opium, and the invention of the hypodermic needle combined to create a new and efficient way to administer drugs. For the first time in history, a powerful painkiller could be administered in a measurable dose. The method was readily embraced by the medical community and provided untold relief for those injured or suffering from dysentery during the Civil War. However, so many soldiers became addicted that morphine addiction came to be known as the “soldier’s disease.” Heroin, another opium derivative, was isolated in the late 1800s. Due to its depressant effects on the respiratory system, heroin was widely touted as a cough and lung medicine, a welcome intervention in an era before tuberculosis could be cured with antibiotics. Ironically, it was even hailed as a cure for opium addiction at one point.
Addiction was widespread by the turn of the twentieth century, especially among the middle and upper classes, and many addicts were young to middle-aged white women who had originally taken addictive substances under the advice of their physicians. Although there are no verifiable statistics from that time, estimates range from 100,000 to more than one million addicts in the United States. Unlike today, opium use was not associated with criminality but with illness.
As a result of various government efforts, many patent medicines were eliminated from the market. Legislative efforts continued throughout the century. The 1970 passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, established comprehensive federal guidelines for controlling narcotics that consolidated previous laws.

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