In the late 1800s, opium was a popular, commonly available drug. Drug users frequented opium dens which dotted the ‘Wild West’ region of America. It was smuggled in and sold by Chinese immigrants who came here to work on the railroads.
There is a typical picture of the western cowboy drowning himself in whiskey at a bar after a rough ride on the dirt roads. It was more likely however, that he was prostrate in a dimly lit room, smoking opium in the arms of an oriental prostitute. They often spent several nights and days at these dens, smoking opium, until eventually, their bodies became addicted to it.
Alcoholism, however, was a bigger problem in those days and opium was used as a cure for alcohol addiction.
In 1810, morphine, a derivative of opium, was developed as a pain killer. It eliminated pain caused by medical operations and severe injuries. Soon after it was administered, it produced an intense, dream-like state of euphoria. Hence, it came to be christened “morphine”, after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. It was hailed by doctors as a miraculous cure for pain and used extensively and freely. In the euphoria however, its detrimental addictive properties went unnoticed until after the Civil War.
Thousands of soldiers became morphine addicts during the civil war and within a span of ten years since its invention America was in the grip of a major morphine epidemic.
In 1874, a British chemist working in London invented a new drug. Bayer of Germany registered it as a trademark under the name “Heroin”. Shortly, it was imported into America and aggressively marketed to doctors and their patients as a “safe, non-addictive” substitute for morphine. For the next several decades, it was sold legally all over the country by drug companies.
Eventually, in 1920, the US Congress passed the Dangerous Drug Act, banning the sale of heroin over the counter and making its distribution federally regulated. However, it was too late already. Tens of thousands of citizens had already been addicted and a market for heroin had been created. Today this market still exists and is, in fact, ever growing.
Nowadays, heroin is well known, and the fact that many people abuse it is also well known.
Opiate addiction is not taken lightly, and it shouldn’t be. Addiction to heroin or other opiate derivatives can cause severe damage to the user over long term use. Because of this, there are now many drug addiction treatment centers nation-wide.